Ever fall in love with a vegetable? Mine was butter lettuce from my parents’ garden. I was in grade school. My mom had just harvested it. It smelled of summer rain, its aroma filling the kitchen. I asked her to taste it. It was nothing like the iceberg leaves of sad salads before. I never knew lettuce had a scent – let alone such flavor. I was hooked.
Today, I work to inspire kids in elementary schools to fall in love with vegetables like I did. I do it out of joy, but also because we’re facing a public health crisis in America. Only four percent of children eat the daily recommended amount of veggies. Forty percent of all produce we buy is wasted, uneaten. This is causing poor health. Diet-related diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in the nation.
We can prevent this if we start building healthy habits while our kids are young. Most of us want to save the next generation from future pain. We would not wait until our children have a cavity to teach them the habit of brushing their teeth. So why are we holding back on vegetables?
Often, adults don’t know where to begin. Teeth brushing is a concrete practice with very few tools. Eating vegetables can get complicated. We need guidance.
Dr. Danton Kono, pediatrician with Mercy Medical Group, sees the rise in diet-related childhood obesity in his patients. Nationally, one in five kindergartners is overweight. Eating healthy food, including vegetables, is the strongest approach to improving health, and a skill that’s best learned early.
Eat your veggies
Kono regularly recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables starting as early as six months old. When youngsters form habits, the pattern is more likely to be repeated through adulthood. Like brushing our teeth.
At Food Literacy Center, the Sacramento-based nonprofit that I run, elementary-aged students are taught to eat a fruit or vegetable with every snack or meal. Through taste education and lots of positivity, children explore a new produce item every week, repeating a healthy eating behavior. Parents can repeat this at home, too.
Kono echoes this advice. “Remember that your child’s meal plate should be half fruits or vegetables to achieve proper balance,” he says.
Studies show that children are also more likely to eat a meal when they have helped prepare it. Getting kids in the kitchen can build a foundation for healthy eating.
Kono also encourages parents to be role models. “Show your child what healthy eating looks like,” Kono says. “If you don’t eat a balanced meal or choose healthy snacks, you can’t expect your child to eat them.”
Amber K. Stott, CEO & Chief Food Genius, Food Literacy Center, [email protected]