Back to school is time for many families to adjust schedules and priorities. We each evolve and become that which we are influenced to be. Parents chose their “influencers” and are the most important influencers of their children. All who read this Elite Fitness Plus newsletter are well aware of the health importance of regularly eating fresh vegetables. A common concern relates to getting our kids to voluntarily enjoy eating their vegetables daily. It seems to many parents that there is no force known to science as powerful as the repulsion between children and vegetables.
Just as supercooling fluids can suspend the law of electrical resistance, melting cheese can suspend the law of vegetable resistance. This is sometimes known as the Pizza Paradox. When melty mozzarella conditions don’t apply, be creative to combine favorite flavors with vegetables, add herbs and spices and include dips for raw veggies. Have kids help prepare veggies including cutting them up in interesting shapes. Find a variety of colors such as purple cauliflower or potatoes to add interest and look for other creative approaches to offset the law of vegetable repulsion.
Recent research at Sanford University got teachers to read 4- and 5-year olds a series of story books for several weeks. The stories gave the children a more detailed but still accessible theory of nutrition. They explained that food is made up of different invisible parts, the equivalent of nutrients; that when you eat, your body breaks up the food into those parts; and that different kinds of food have different invisible parts. They also explained that your body needs different nutrients to do different things, so that to function well you need to take in a lot of different nutrients. A control group of children were read stories that encouraged healthy eating, but did not include any causal framework to explain how eating works or why eating vegetables would help their bodies function better. Researchers asked questions to test the deeper understanding of nutrition. At snack time the children were offered vegetables, fruit, cheese and crackers. The children who had heard the theoretical stories and understood the health concepts strikingly were the ones to select the vegetables at snack time. Influencing children’s theories significantly affected their choices.
Children have a natural curiosity-they want to understand why and how things work. Of course we need to simplify materials for young children, but oversimplification robs children of the opportunity to learn and advance their thinking. Additional studies supported the concept that the children that learned and understood the concept that food contained nutrients and the different kinds of nutrients were important for various bodily functions tended to make healthier food selections. Emphasis on enjoyment of healthy eating and trying new foods showed some benefit, but the children in the conceptual program showed more knowledge about nutrition resulting in a significant overall increase in vegetable consumption.
Every parent has a different strategy for trying to get their kids to eat more vegetables from growing vegetables together as a family to banning treats until the dinner plate is clean. Do not “demonize” veggies. Make delicious salads with veggies and mix veggies into foods kids like. It is also very important for children to see their Mom and Dad and older siblings eating and enjoying daily vegetables.
With our focus on learning as our children return to school, let us not forget the importance of teaching children an overarching, conceptual framework for nutrition and the importance of eating fresh vegetables daily. The importance of learning to enjoy healthy nutrition that includes daily fresh vegetables is critical to achieving each of our full potential in life. Those of us who are no longer children but have not learned to enjoy daily fresh vegetables are encouraged to educate ourselves and place into practice what we know helps to improve our daily function and to serve as role models to those that look to us for influence.