Summer is nearly upon us – and with it, a lot of changes, excitement, and challenges for our little (and too rapidly, I fear, not-so-little...
5 Reasons Your Kids Should Eat Their Greens -- and 5 Ways They’ll Do It
Part 1 of Our 3-Part ‘Eat Your Greens’ Series
I’m reading the Joel Fuhrman book, Disease-Proof Your Child, in an absolutely occasional moment where my son Aidan is quietly playing next to me and Ammie is sleeping. In the book, he mentions that his children have known since the age of 5 why eating greens is important. I turn to Aidan (a boy who, mercifully, has always been willing to eat his greens -- at least with a little cajoling), absorbed in his model car parking lot, and the conversation goes something like this:
“Aidan, do you know why we always have greens and salad with dinner?”
“You don’t know why we ask you to eat them?”
“You want to know?”
“It’s because greens have lots of vitamins, and, I quote, “green vegetables are essential to create our body’s immune system shield against dangerous diseases and lead to a healthy lifespan.”
I suspect at this point, he perks up because the word ‘shield’ is mentioned (tip #1: when explaining health and the immune system to little boys, any medieval battle analogies are welcomed). In any case, he listens intently from here on out, until I’m finished.
“His kids may have known why to eat their greens since the age of five. Yours knows from the age of 8,” he announces.
This conversation has been an amazing eye-opener. I can’t believe I’ve omitted something so obvious from my child’s education. (Think its the first time? Think again when you read the blog on cough and runny noses where my latest revelation is that kids in winter should wear a coat.) Low-hanging fruit, my husband calls this sort of thing, and I’ve missed it. Can I tell you something else before we get down to business? Every time we’ve sat down to eat since the conversation I’ve recounted, every single time, Aidan eats his salad and greens without any cajoling whatsoever. Even tonight at his favorite Italian restaurant, he helped himself to my salad (and if greens are not eclipsed by tortellaccis and profiteroles in his world, they will not be eclipsed by anything).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the info in this blog series eliminated the phrase, “eat your greens”, even sometimes? Here’s hoping...:
5 Reasons Your Kids Really Should Eat Their Greens
It isn’t just an old saying passed from generations past and etiquette lessons like “don’t talk with your mouth full.” There’s actually a lot of rhyme and reason to it, healthwise. Here are my top 5 reasons why it’s worth your effort to persist:
1. They Can. My friend in an old mama’s group shared with me the urban legend of the little girl who, despite all of her parents best efforts, refused to eat any food except chocolate croissants. They capitulated, apparently for fear that otherwise their child might waste away. I don’t buy it. Its not that I don’t believe that children can be picky eaters, or that they have different preferences from adults (and from each other). There are a myriad of factors, understood, not-yet-understood, and misunderstood, that determine taste in food (including, scientists speculate, what the pregnant and nursing mama eats!). One universal however, is that, as a species, human beings are programmed to eat vegetables and fruits. It’s why we have color vision. It’s how we survive (some vitamins, such as vitamin C, are not made by the body, and are mandatory for life nonetheless). It’s also a scientific certainty that the foods we eat as a child shape our later tastes and preferences. I promise that no child ever starved for lack of chocolate croissants, but I wish I could say the same for the vitamins in fresh fruits and veggies. As much as we override this programming in our standard american diet, we are programmed to like them. If your child is older and not used to eating much in the way of produce, it may take some acclimating -- their flavors are vibrant, but subtler and less assaulting to the tastebuds than a lot of the sugary and salty snack foods to which many children are accustomed. Still, with perseverance, continued offering and reintroduction, it will happen. Darwin is with me on this one.
2. Greens contain nutrients that no other food contains. They’re called phytochemicals, and they’ve recently been found (12,000 of them!) in plant foods. These nutrients are powerful antioxidants, which protect and repair DNA -- and this is only the start of what we’re finding out about them. They may be a vital key to detoxification and cancer prevention. Vitamins don’t do the trick here for many reasons, not the least of which is that many phytonutrients have not yet been isolated and reproduced. This special category of nutrients is especially abundant in greens, along with calcium, vitamin C, iron, folate, and vitamin K. Bottom line, you can’t get the phytochemicals contained in greens any other way than by eating them -- and they’re awfully good for you, in recently discovered and as-yet-undiscovered ways.
3. Greens contain more nutrients than any other food contains. More nutrients per calorie than any other food equals more bang for your buck in the short term, and a strategy to ensure healthy weight and immunity in the long term.
4. What Your Children Eat Now Shape Their Tastes -- and Health -- in Adulthood. I know it’s scary to contemplate -- particularly for me, who was no stranger to double bacon cheeseburgers and donuts in childhood, but what we feed our children has impact on what they’ll like to eat as adults, and their health as adults as well. Many studies are discovering that your eating habits as a child, including consumption of plant fiber, may be more influential on your health as an adult than your eating habits as an adult. One explanation is that growing cells’ DNA is more exposed than adult DNA, and therefore more susceptible to both nourishing and damaging habits than later in life. Our tastes are simultaneously formed during childhood -- in other words, adult preferences often echo the meals of childhood. (One meal with my Aunt Bea proves this point beyond the shadow of the doubt...if she didn’t eat it during her midwestern childhood, she’s probably not going to like it now.) This makes a healthy exposure and childhood taste for greens all the more important. For a jumping-off point into an encyclopedic amount of research in this arena, check out Joel Fuhrman’s wonderful book on disease-proofing your child we mentioned at the beginning of this blog. Or, if you’re pressed for time, take my word for it.
5. Greens Really Can Taste Delicious. If your child doesn’t like them (I have met a few), stay tuned for our next blog, with my five favorite ways to get your child to eat greens -- complete with suggested recipes. You may have a convert on your hands.
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