It’s the quickest way to fill up the compost pile.
Since the dawn of time, kids have avoided healthy foods — and there are actual scientific reasons for it. To start, children have more taste buds than adults do. While adults build a tolerance to the bitter taste of veggies over time, kids perceive it as much more powerful.
Secondly, kids instinctively turn toward sweeter or saltier food. Cue the mac ’n’ cheese and chocolate ice cream. If you serve buttered pasta next to steamed broccoli, they’ll likely gravitate toward the carbs. But serving broccoli on its own, with seasonings and cheese, will make it much more desirable.
Changing the conversation
While kids can be stubborn about skipping produce, they’re also curious, adventurous and on a nonstop quest to learn new things. Sometimes the trick to encouraging healthy eating is simply tapping into their voracious spirit.
According to Lindsay Yau, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers, explaining a food’s biological superpower can help. “Try changing the focus,” she says. “Explaining how certain foods can make a kid stronger and faster lets them relate better to what they’re eating.”
Here are eight examples of what to say:
- “Carrots help you see better. They have an ingredient called beta carotene, which helps keep your eyesight strong, especially when it’s dark outside.”
- “Broccoli helps stop your body from bleeding when you get a cut. An ingredient called vitamin K helps strengthen your blood, so if you cut yourself, the cut stops bleeding faster and turns into a scab.”
- “Spinach and kale help you get taller. Leafy greens have a nutrient called folate, which helps you grow. When you’re a kid, you get big fast — and leafy greens help your body along.”
- “Tomatoes keep your blood strong. The potassium in tomatoes helps keep the blood moving inside your body, from the top of your head down to your toes.”
- “Peas help make your hair and nails grow. Peas contain protein, which is an important building block for your body — especially for things like your hair, bones, muscles, skin and nails.”
- “Blueberries help you remember things. As you get older, you tend to forget things. Blueberries have a nutrient called anthocyanin that can help keep your mind sharp.”
- “Avocados help keep your heart beating. Hold your hand to your heart and you feel it beating. That means it’s doing its job! Avocados have a healthy type of fat in them that makes your heart strong.”
- “Apples help you go to the toilet. Apples — and all fruits — have something in them called fiber, which helps you go to the toilet. This means getting all the you-know-what out of your body.”
“Children need adequate nutrition,” says Yau. “This is largely needed from vegetables, but also from whole grains, fruits and lean protein. Being a role model, sharing meal times with children, taking them to the grocery store and having them help prep food are all great ways to increase their exposure and likelihood of trying new things.”