Today we are going to talk about healthy food.
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t like fresh produce? If any of you is raising your hand right now, I urge you to reach out, and you will see that I will change your mind. Who knows, you might even be close enough for me to drop by a deliciously fresh and juicy tomato salad.
Now here comes a bombshell, watch out…. children actually like vegetables! Bam, crash, rumble.
You didn’t see that coming, did you? Of course, we all have certain food we prefer over others, but please, believe me, this is not a matter of healthy food versus unhealthy food. Give children a fresh produce plate, and they will enjoy the carrot sticks, the cucumber slices, or the fresh tomatoes you arrange on it. Now, I give you five golden stars and my full admiration if you make all of that look cute, shape it in hearts and present it as a piece of art, but the reality is that I don’t have time for that and that is okay. It just needs to taste good. Would you like to eat a bowl of pasta that is flavorless, my guess is no. It’s precisely the same thing with vegetables.
Go for it, be picky, choose produce that is actually delicious, select fruit and vegetables that are juicy and full of flavor, and guess what your children will love it too. Sure, adding a little bit of salt here of there might add to it; go for it, but usually, you can just present it exactly the way it is.
I have seen and heard stories of struggles, the need to hide vegetables, cut them so small that they are practically invisible, and or cover them with cheese. It happens, and we are not here to judge; we are just here to tell you that if you would like to change this, we would love to help. Now I don’t want to preach or pretend that I have all the answers, I don’t, just like you, I learn along the way. The benefit I have, however, is that I have seen and worked with a lot of children, so I can honestly tell you that there is a way.
Are you still doubtful? I get it, here, let me tell you about something I experienced a few years ago. Who knows maybe I can sway you and you will believe me in the end.
I once had the honor or teaching this incredible child in my classroom. Let’s call her Frida. Frida was remarkable, she was kind, compassionate, creative, and a true friend, and she was a picky eater! I am not talking about picky as in I don’t like tomato sauce, I mean picky, picky times 100. Wowzer, that was a challenge. Her parents were strong, intelligent people and knew that the way they catered to her food habits was getting increasingly harder (and slightly maddening). They also figured out that though-love did not work on her as she would just simply not eat at all. We had a lot of conversations, we tried different tips and tricks, but even though some things worked here and there, there was no real breakthrough.
Together with Frida’s family, we decided to remain calm, be patient with ourselves as well as her, and just keep trying. One day, we were getting ready to celebrate one of Austria’s national holidays in school. Can you imagine the looks I received walking down San Francisco’s streets with my dirndl? I didn’t care. I wanted this day to be as joyful and authentic as possible for the children. In class, the kids and I started baking an apple strudel, the apples were incredible. These apples were the real reason snow-white “took a nap” We were so excited to use them. Frida did not like apples, Frida also did not like cakes, cupcakes, or pies. (Didn’t I tell you she was picky!!) Frida however, liked to participate, and together we created this apple strudel masterpiece. The children were ecstatic. The classroom smelled like an orchard. We played typical Austrian games, danced, and talked about funny things in Austria.
When the timer on the oven chimed, the children were beyond excited to try a national dish. I asked Frida to cut the strudel, which she happily did. The strudel was served, and everyone received a piece. Frida told me that she doesn’t want one, and I 100% accepted and respected her decision. I simply invited her to sit with us and eat her “special snack” instead. Frida was happy, the kids were delighted and so was I. A lot of children wanted to second slice, so the strudel was placed in the center of our table. I could not believe my eyes when I saw Frida reach out and pick a tiny piece of the strudel and try it. I didn’t want to make a big deal of the situation, so I simply smiled at her and continued my conversation. A few seconds later, Frida picked off another piece of the strudel. I could no longer contain myself. I asked Frida if she would like a slice on her plate. She was hesitant, oh my was she hesitant, but she said yes. Now let me tell you. The entire class celebrated her, and she loved the strudel. Her parents could not believe it. It was a huge breakthrough for her. Months of hard work has paid off; she was continuously exposed to an environment that respected her wishes but included her. We let curiosity and internal forces do the work, and she did it on her own terms and because she wanted to and not because we asked her to.
One might argue that an apple strudel is sweet, so it is not considered a healthy food, but that is not why I told you this story. As mentioned above, kind and loving Frida didn’t even eat cake, so sugar was not a factor in this. I told you this story because I want you to understand that your environment is the key. If you no longer wish to hide vegetables, expose children to them. Let them see them, feel them, taste them, prepare them. Ask children to cook with you, ask their opinion on flavor, bake with them, compare spicy radishes with spicy raw cauliflower. Make food a topic of exploration and conversation. Why do we eat healthily? What are vitamins? How does our body work? Understanding why we do things gives us power over our own will and decision making.
Have you ever considered growing food with your children? Show them where a carrot comes from by placing the seeds, caring for the plant, and harvesting it.
Enjoy food, you too, don’t call it grown-up food and kids food. Eat together, respect their decisions, but do it together. Personally, I don’t eat many carbohydrates, I still eat the same food as the children, I just substitute. Eat a curry with your children; don’t make it dull by not using spices, onions, garlic, etc. Make a real curry and have a pot of yogurt for children to adjust the flavor to their liking. Put vegetables on the table and enjoy them. It really is that easy, I promise it is. Give it a try!