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Parenting: Let Them Eat Veggies

Holli Kaplan didn’t want to become the unpopular soccer mom who brought food no one on her daughters’ teams would eat. Yet her nutritional conscience wouldn’t allow her to bring the doughnuts and sugary snacks the young players expected. She decided to prepare something sweet but nourishing, and she was happy to see that some children ate the raisins and carrots she provided, her two girls among them.

Kaplan wasn’t always so nutritionally minded. Growing up in Walnut Creek, she was one of those kids who walked away from carrots and other vegetables. Now, she is one of many parents I meet who are making healthful eating a priority for their families. One little victory: Last season, her daughters’ soccer coach requested that parents bring fruits and vegetables for team snacks.

At this time of year, when we’re making resolutions to improve our health, it’s inspiring to hear about parents whose ambitions include protecting the long-term health of their families. With more information and better shopping choices, parents are choosing foods that will nourish their children’s bodies, not just soothe sweet-tooth cravings.

Decisions start in the grocery store. “I used to think organics were an unnecessary extravagance,” Kaplan says. “But going grocery shopping with my mother-in-law got me thinking and reading about nutrition. Now we eat only organics at home.” When dining out, the family chooses restaurants that offer fresh foods and orders sides of vegetables. Kaplan is also educating her children about everyday options. “At a food demonstration, my daughters and I learned that there’s no bright blue food in nature—anything blue is made with dyes. That got us to talking about blue ice cream.”

Kaplan and the girls agreed that colored ice cream was an indulgence for rare occasions.

Mother and daughters are also discussing how their choices affect health. Recently, the seven-year-old mentioned that girls at school were gossiping about who was “fat.” Kaplan was horrified. She and her daughter browsed through some magazines and observed how distorted advertisers’ views of female beauty really are. Their conclusion: If you eat foods like unprocessed vegetables and fruits, your body will grow healthy and strong, with the glowing beauty that comes from energy and vitality.

Focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains is key to making better nutritional choices, says Walnut Creek–based pediatrician Kathleen Smith. “I didn’t learn much about nutrition in medical school,” she says. “I started reading about the subject when I became a mom.”

Now Smith incorporates what she’s learned about healthful foods into talks with her patients’ parents—although she’s careful not to make them feel guilty. “I suggest just gradually moving in a healthy direction. That’s what [my husband and I] do at home. We both work full-time, so we’ve learned to keep things simple: meat, fruits, veggies, and whole grains.”

Local nutritionist Nancy Shafa has compassion for parents trying to instill healthy attitudes about eating. “The most powerful teaching tool is our own example,” she says. “When you go out, remember that one child’s Happy Meal has 600 calories. A single 20-ounce orange drink can contain 18 teaspoons of sugar. I try to steer people away from sweetened drinks.” She suggests giving children whole fruit rather than juice and maintains that milk or water make the best beverage choices.

Planning can make after-school snacking healthy and easy, Shafa says. For example, she suggests buying bags of cut vegetables or fruits to put out when kids come home hungry. “Stores are trying to make using fresh foods easier, and we should take advantage of their efforts.”

Shafa is pleased with the wealth of information and choices now available. “We’re learning more and more about nutrition. Ten years ago, everyone drank whole milk. Now, word is spreading that children over [the age of] two should drink milk with no more than one percent fat. We know so much more than our parents did, so we can teach our children to make better choices.”

When I was growing up, people who were particular about their diets were labeled “health-food nuts.” Today, our level of consciousness has changed—even Safeway has its own brand of organics. When we concentrate on the positive options that are available, we empower ourselves to effect change. I see that happening every day. Recently, I heard a four-year-old girl ask a friend over lunch, “Is that healthy for you?” That’s the voice of our future.

Healthy Snacks (for kids four and up)

Vegetables with hummus
Fruit with yogurt
Rice cakes with nut butter
Dried fruit
Nuts
Cheese
Whole-grain-tortilla quesadillas
Breads, such as pumpkin, zucchini, or banana
Unsugared whole-grain cereal
Popcorn
Whole-grain pretzels
Whole-grain crackers with low-fat refried beans
Guacamole and chips

Published: Diablo, January 2007

Author bio: Author bio: Susan Isaacs Kohl is the director of the White Pony School in Lafayette, California, and has been a consultant to parents and teachers for more than 30 years.  She is the author of The Best Things Parents Do.

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