S.E. Livingston: More carrots please ... all the better with a little dirtOne day last August Danny was talking to me with dark brown crumbs around his mouth ... like he’d been eating an Oreo. But that just wasn't the case.
One day last August Danny was talking to me with dark brown crumbs around his mouth ... like he’d been eating an Oreo. I figured Ernie must have a hidden stash which Danny and Will discovered, as Will’s lips also had the tell-tale black ring. A day later, as I washed the grim circle from Annie’s face, I asked: “Just what have you been eating?”
“Carrots!” she answered gleefully. Then why the dark brown crumbs? Ah, dirt. Thrilled with our self-service garden, the kids had been picking and eating carrots to excess, not to be thwarted by a little dirt.
This event made me feel somewhat qualified to answer a question posed to me by a young mother: “How in the world do you get kids to eat vegetables? It’s not that they won’t eat them, it’s that I don’t like them. I don’t want to spend the money on them because I’ve heard that fresh aren’t even that nutritious because of how early they’re picked. Can you give me some tips?” (This was from Shelby in Duluth.)
She writes because she assumes my kids eat their vegetables like the books say they should. She’s right; I’m not lying because I’m paid to write a column about parenting. One of my boys actually said, “Why eat chips when there is broccoli around?” (I kid you not ... I had to write this one down in the baby book.)
I guess the reason they like vegetables is because we’ve never made a big deal about eating them. I prepare vegetables for every meal because I love vegetables. I say things to my kids like, “Are you going to eat that brussel sprout or can I have it?” Motherlove is a memory when a tender, buttered brussel sprout is on the table. We’re not vegetarians, and our house doesn’t smell like the Whole Foods Co-op; vegetables are just some of our eating options.
I’m being straight with you: When veggies are very fresh and raw, they are delectable. When they are steamed, buttered and salted, they are divine. My kids have picked up on this.
I’ve never targeted the vegetable on the plate and made it the enemy, like, “Eat your broccoli and then you can go play outside.”
I’m not saying that my kids love all vegetables. They have certain likes and dislikes like everybody else; I just don’t make vegetables a battleground.
So, my first advice to Shelby goes like this: Learn to love vegetables. God created your body to be fueled by them. Learn how to cook them or eat them raw, but enjoy them.
Fresh produce does seem expensive, but, if you visit one of our local farmers’ markets, you can buy produce relatively cheaply, and it’s so fresh that nutrients are not lost. Plus, what you spend on food goes toward supporting a local farming family.
So my second piece of advice for Shelby is spend the bulk of your money on the living stuff instead of the processed stuff.
Which brings me to my third point: Modern American kids — wait, it’s all of us — don’t eat our vegetables because there are too many other choices available. Vegetable lover though I am, I’m not going to eat a carrot when I can have a bag of Cheetos. Come on! So I don’t buy the Cheetos.
One Sunday in the church nursery I watched a tow-headed tot suck down an avocado for snack. This was what her parents had sent. If they had sent Goldfish crackers she would have chosen those, but she didn’t know about Goldfish crackers. Ignorance was bliss.
I know I’m making this sound easy, Shelby, but it’s a simple case of “do as I do” as opposed to “do as I say.” There are a bunch of cookbooks teaching parents how to disguise vegetables in foods. That’s all well and good, but, really, it’s in our genetic makeup to learn how to like raw sugarsnap peas and slightly steamed green beans — given the right encouragement and options. So, Shelby, you go eat your vegetables, and maybe if you bury some of them out in the yard, the kids will eat theirs too.
Monthly columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota. E-mail her at email@example.com.