The Daily Dirt

A Recipe For Change: Success With Kids in the Kitchen

FoodCorpsLogo-HiResFoodCorps Service Members have a knack for interacting with kids and teenagers, and they’re experts at getting them interested in learning about the nutrition of the foods they consume. Whether they are working with kids in school gardens or performing cooking demonstrations with the foods students have grown, FoodCorps service members provide hands-on education and promote local food in all the schools they visit.

But we all know it can be tricky to get kids to eat their veggies, so FoodCorps Service Members, Sarah Dasher and Rachel Waldron, have some insights on how to make kids’ healthy eating experiences way more enjoyable! The FoodCorps Georgia Service Members will be speaking at the 18th Annual Georgia Organics Conference, Recipe for Change: Better Farms, Better Flavors, which will be held on Feb. 20-21, 2015, at the Classic Center in Athens, Ga.

What are some unique ways to make sure kids are getting nutritious foods in their diets?
Sarah: The most successful way I’ve found to get kids to eat their veggies is to let them make their own food and start feeding them a variety of healthy foods at an early age. I had my garden club make kale salads for themselves (they did everything start to finish), and all but one of the 20 kids, ranging in age from 5 to 10, ate it. Most of them asked for seconds, and a few even brought kale salad to school for lunch the next day.

Rachel: Get kids out in the garden–getting them involved in growing food makes all the difference. I’ve had kids who refuse to eat celery sticks, the most inane of vegetables, go out into the garden and chow down on fresh radishes, fennel bulbs, and spinach. So many of us miss out on the tactile experience of growing our own food–putting our hands in the soil, touching the growing leaves of plants and biting down on garden fresh carrots. Not only do kids become more familiar with the vegetables as they grow (which can negate some of the fear of trying new things), they develop a sense of ownership for the fruits of their labors.

How would you advise parents that have a difficult time getting their kids to eat green vegetables?
Sarah: I’m a huge advocate of using lemon or tamari as seasoning. A little goes a long way, and kids love it. It’s how I learned to love broccoli as a kid.

Rachel: Try preparing vegetables in a variety of ways. Often when a kid says “I don’t like that” either they haven’t ever tried it or they have only had it prepared one way. You don’t like raw broccoli? What about roasted or steamed? You don’t like cooked spinach? What about raw in a salad or mixed into a soup? Also, don’t forget to try these foods with your kids. When I was growing up, I didn’t have much experience with cooked vegetables because my mother almost always served them raw. I thought that because she didn’t like cooked vegetables, I didn’t either. I didn’t even consider that I’d been wrong about my own vegetable preferences until I lived in an environment where a variety of cooked vegetables were the norm instead of the exception.

It seems it could be harder in a school setting to get kids to actually eat their vegetables. Do you have advice for how schools can get kids to eat and enjoy vegetables rather than serving them with the possibility that they might go to waste?
Sarah: The kids I work with say that they hate when the school serves them veggies that are over-cooked, so I’d suggest avoiding serving veggies that are too soft or mushy. Also, a lot of the middle schoolers I work with say that they love salad and that they really want a salad bar with fresh food on it. Schools could give surveys to students to find out what vegetable dishes that have been served were a hit and which ones none of them would eat, and then serve more of that type of dish.

Rachel: Speak out against the stigma that vegetables are slimy and gross! More necessary than the institutionalized change of serving more palatable vegetables in the cafeteria, is the need to change the mindset of the kids. I believe that the only way to create this change is to work from the ground up to get kids involved in growing and making their own foods on a regular basis both at home and at school. Its an ambitious goal, for sure, but a necessary one.

Why do you think kids have an aversion to most vegetables?
Sarah: I don’t think that they do! I think the kids that are that way just haven’t been exposed to veggies prepared in an appetizing way enough, and offered to them in a way that isn’t pushy. I think “eating your vegetables” becomes such a sound bite that they hear all the time that they have an aversion to. I think the key is offering them a wide variety of foods when they are young so that trying things isn’t scary to them later when they are making their own food decisions.

Rachel: I think kids rebel against eating vegetables for the same reasons that they rebel against most things. They want to assert their individuality and independence. Given our culture’s obsession with instant gratification, the idea that the time-consuming task of preparing and then eating our vegetables is good for us in the long run is something that even adults struggle with. The situation is further aggravated by the prevalent idea that the things that are good for us must taste bad. Add to that the ubiquitous marketing of fast food companies, and its no wonder that kids say they don’t like vegetables!

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