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April 5th, 2013

Eat Your Vegetables – You Grew Them!

Recently, I read an article about getting kids to eat their vegetables. I’m always game to learn a new parenting trick (or up for being shocked by one), particularly when it comes to eating real food. The article (here) talked about rewards vs. bribes. As a boy growing up in Iceland, we didn’t have vegetables.  The Icelandic climate isn’t exactly…hospitable to plant life. My meals were potatoes and cod — not grilled and anointed with some kind of chorizo butter, either:  we’re talking straight up boiled potatoes and cod!

What is it about vegetables that we’re so resistant to? Our bodies and our kids’ bodies grow strong from their nutrients and yet it’s a relationship fraught with delay.  Too often the broccoli is pushed aside and left till last — when all the other options and distractions are gone and eaten up.  Only in the final moments of the meal do the negotiations begin as one’s child faces the vegetables.  But who cares if the broccoli resembles a tree, because by then, the vegetables are cold!  (Unless you’re serving pickled peppers, cold vegetables are tough on the taste buds.)  Cold trees!

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that having a good number of parenting tricks up my sleeve is essential, as is the ability to nimbly replace the outdated tricks for new tricks — adapting.   Here is what’s working for me in the vegetable eating department (er, for now!)

TASTE EVERYTHING
The first trick is a rule. My four-year-old son must taste everything.  (Secretly, I know that it takes humans roughly 15-20 instances of trying a food to determine whether one likes it or not. You can check out the Slate article I read here.) Taking at least one bite of a new food allows him to get some nutrients in his body, but it also gives him the experience of a variety of different tastes, textures, and flavors.  Even if he doesn’t like it, we can attempt a conversation about the food, “Was it nutty, crunchy, did it tickle your tongue…?” My hope is that an inner lexicon for experiencing food will develop in him, and be at the ready when he matures and seeks out food experiences in adulthood.

SPONTANEITY
The second trick is removing “time” and scheduling from the equation and bringing spontaneity to vegetable eating.  I think it’s important to relieve one’s self of the association of “eating your vegetables” with the nighttime meal and that ¼-sized quadrant of one’s plate left untouched till last.  Why not pull a carrot you grew from the soil in the late morning, dust it off, and eat it right then and there?

Farmer’s markets bring spontaneity and story to vegetable eating (fruits, too).  The person handing you a sample of that local, purple carrot is the woman who grew it, and she can tell you her story (how she was an accountant in her previous life) and everything you ever wanted to know about the carrot you’re tasting. Just from sampling tomatoes, carrots, greens, celery, asparagus, etc. while walking through a farmer’s market, a child stocks up on vitamins.  Dinnertime doesn’t have to be the battle ground of the vegetable wars.  Vegetables can be eaten here and there (with a fox, in a box) in the light of day!  The other thing is that talking to the people who grow the food brings connection — it connects their story to the food you eat and cook for friends, and ultimately that is the story of your community.

GROWING FOOD TOGETHER
The third and final trick is growing food with my son. Have you ever pulled food from the ground and tasted it?  Food in that state is alive, still connected to the soil.  The experience is unforgettable. I grow vegetables with my son.  Growing food together is more engrossing than you think.  (The child-sized shovel and wheelbarrow I bought for my son didn’t hurt!)  And it is amazing to notice how different my son is with each season, his abilities, and what he notices. He seems to grow as fast as the food.

I suspect that the reason why growing food (and cooking with a parent) increases a child’s interest in eating food is because there’s connection and buy-in.  Imagine having a plate full of food plopped down in front of you — wham!  Here, eat!  But, presented like that you’ve got no connection to that food.  You didn’t choose it.  Is this a kids’ experience, I wonder?  I believe participation in the cooking or growing (or both) is essential.  At a restaurant you order food — you’ve at least chosen it from a list of options, right?  And when you’re serving yourself at a friend’s table, you’re scooping food onto your plate, more of some food and less of other food — choosing it.  If our children are part of choosing their food — which seeds to grow, sampling the goods as they grow, and harvesting, then resistance is less likely and kids get to become part of the story of their food.

Finding a way to be connected to, or a partner in, the food we eat is key to caring about it.

Do you need a backyard to grow vegetables?  No way!  If you have a pot and a sunny windowsill, you can grow food.  An envelope of seeds is less than $3.  I’m not kidding:  anyone can grow food. 

I’m lucky, the Seed Bank’s headquarters are based here in Petaluma, California.  But, lucky for you they also run an online store (here).  

Now nothing’s stopping you.

#beaviking
Smári

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