Health & Wellness

Treat Vegetables Like Fast Food and Change the Way Your Kids Eat

Essay by Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, author of Adventures in Veggieland

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the french fry is the most popular vegetable in America and the possible runner-up is potato chips. They are the default side-dish at almost every fast food restaurant, most major sporting events and wherever food is served in a flash. When kids get consistent exposure to a vegetable because it’s the only option, they learn to eat it from a very young age. Cook that familiar veggie in fat and salt, and studies show that humans will crave the fatty-salty taste combo every single day. In fact, once they are hooked, they’ll eat more calories per day even if there are no fries available.

Change the way your kids eat and treat all vegetables like fast food. Make them routine, visit them every day and limit other options. If that fatty, salty combo is what your kids crave, start there.  White potatoes aren’t the only way to make a fry.  Beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips and even cauliflower stems can be sliced and roasted with a touch of olive oil and sea salt to easily win the fry popularity contest.  Once kids have explored all kinds of fries, expand to other simple recipes using those same vegetables, like potato tots made with grated cauliflower and cheese.

Expose kids to fresh seasonal veggies by encouraging them to pick out the weekly produce with you before washing and prepping it for mealtime. Kids can explore textures by scrubbing vegetables clean, peeling and chopping and helping to make veggies a part of family mealtimes.  Research shows that just interacting with a variety of textures increases the likelihood that kids will taste new foods. It takes time and it’s not as convenient as the fast food. But, you’ve got a whole year to achieve this resolution.

Think about the marketing behind fast food. Preschoolers see, on average, three fast-food ads per day and teens even more. Start advertising vegetables in your house, all year long. Kids typically need eight to fifteen exposures to a new food just to enhance the acceptance of it, so keep running your veggie commercials. Sure, you’re not going to serve parsnip fries every night for weeks on end, but you might serve mashed parsnips one week and later roasted pears and parsnips with ice cream on top.  Another week, you and your child might create a spectacular sweet potato bar with a variety of yummy toppings.  How about beet hummus or chocolate beet cupcakes?

Why rush through a drive-thru line when you can bring your kids into the heart of your home, the family kitchen? Not only will they eat healthier this year, but they’ll also spend time with you nurturing a love for healthy foods and that’s a resolution that lasts a lifetime.

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