Crisply fried or smoothly mashed. Served piping hot with butter and sour cream, or roasted with a pinch of salt and rosemary. This description could only belong to one food- the potato.
Potatoes, in the form of French fries, are more widely consumed by American children than any other vegetable. Lumped with other starchy vegetables like corn, lima beans and peas, it becomes clear that these are the vegetables consumed 75% of the time in US school lunches. So, if kids are actually eating their vegetables, why is the USDA considering limiting the amount of these served in school lunches to no more than once cup per week? Don’t we want kids to eat more vegetables?
The answer to that question is resounding “yes.” The federal government believes in promoting fruit and vegetable intake so much that when the USDA recently announced that its’ newest food guidance, MyPlate, would replace the too technical MyPyramid, top on the list of advice offered was to make half of your plate fruit and vegetables. High in fiber, low in calories and packed with nutrients like vitamins A, C, K and folate, vegetables are the key to weight loss and better health.
What’s wrong with potatoes? Although they are packed with fiber and nutrients like vitamin C and potassium, they also carry their fair share of drawbacks. Potatoes are most-often deep fried. This adds lots of calories, bad types of fat and destroys many of the nutrients. Another problem with over-consuming potatoes and other starchy vegetables is the calorie content. Starchy vegetables contain triple the calories of their non-starchy counterparts (lettuce, spinach, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc). Some research even shows that the starch in a potato raises blood glucose and insulin levels significantly. When America’s love affair with refined grains (white bread and pasta) and sugar-laden treats is combined with eating too much of the white starch in potatoes, it is easy to see how high blood sugar and high blood insulin levels can become the end result. Over time this metabolic nightmare causes weight gain and insulin resistance, a pre-cursor of diabetes.
What’s a Mom to do? When you sit down to dinner every night and your child refuses to touch a vegetable other than potatoes or corn, it easy to rationalize that at least he’s eating some sort of vegetable and getting in at least a few vitamins, right? I agree. But, in addition to providing a few servings of potatoes a week, start placing some deeply colored vegetables on the little one’s plate. If you think he or she will always refuse to eat the new foods, think again. The research is clear- it takes 10-15 times for children to accept new foods. Like many other things in motherhood, patience and persistence is key to getting your kids to try and accept new vegetables.
Sure, it’s easy to stick with the old standby potato, but why not branch out by trying some new broccoli “trees” (covered in cheese or dipped in low fat ranch) or add some spinach to an iceberg lettuce salad? Establish a three bite rule: your child must try three bites of everything on his plate, including veggies. Three bites won’t kill even the pickiest eater and might even help him accept a new food. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually you’ll find that your little one will start to enjoy new vegetables.
A few other tried and true tricks include stocking your freezer with a variety of inexpensive bags of frozen vegetables. Prepare them a different way before each taste test. Be creative with consistency and flavor. Some kids love roasted cauliflower with carrots and some just like it steamed with melted cheese. Become adventurous and try veggies raw, grilled, sautéed or covered with a healthy sauce. Steer clear of the plain and prepare mixed dishes with vegetables. Add cut up or pureed vegetables to foods they already like, such as spaghetti sauce, soup, or meatloaf. It’s easy to turn your nose up to a glob of cooked spinach, but much harder to resist when combined with melted mozzarella cheese in a piece of lasagna.
When looking for role model veggie eaters, guess who kids will turn to first? That’s right- Mom and Dad. If your kids won’t touch anything green, it’s time for you to come clean. Do you eat vegetables? Are you willing to try three bites and put them on your plate at every meal? If not, you can only expect your children to do the same. If this is a problem in your house, make a game of trying new vegetables by setting a goal to try two new ones each week for a month. When you meet the goal, provide a family reward like a trip to the park or a family movie night.
I know it seems daunting, but if you are tired of potatoes ruling the roost in your house, try some of these suggestions and you’ll be on your way to eating less calories and more nutrients in a matter of weeks. If you have other suggestions for tackling the age-old issue of getting your kids to eat their vegetables, I’d love to have your feedback.