Thoughts on eating vegetables

Posted: Sunday, July 11, 2010

Eat your vegetables! Drink your milk! Clean your plate!

I get so tired of being the food police. Why is it that the yuckiest foods are the ones that are good for you? Why are kids hardwired to not like vegetables, especially those of the green variety?

I blame it on the baby food industry. You've got a baby with a clean palate, who has never tasted vegetables before. Offer him baby food squash, peas and bananas - which one will he choose? I'm guessing that 100 percent of babies would choose the bananas, and the forlorn jar of overcooked peas will remain untouched. And who could blame them? Have you ever tasted baby food peas? Nasty! When my kids were babies, I tried to sample the food I was feeding to them, but I couldn't get past the putrid smell of those peas. Spinach and beans were even worse.

I remember my parents trying to get us kids to eat our vegetables. We had to clear our plates in order to get dessert. Well, it was the vegetables that needed to be cleared before we could get to those brownies. We used to ask, "What's for dessert?" and then calculate whether the reward was worth the pain of eating those dreaded vegetables.

There were two girls in my family, followed by two boys. My sister and I eventually grew to like salads, peas, even spinach. I'm surprised my brothers ever got dessert at all. The boys shamelessly cited President Reagan in their attempt to prove that the ketchup on their french fries counted as a vegetable. The fries count too, right? Potatoes are vegetables. The funny part was, when my youngest brother went to college he became a vegetarian. I had to laugh. "Vegetarian" implies some consumption of vegetables, after all. Presumably he was eating more than just fries and ketchup by that time.

It was a lot easier to eat our vegetables when I was a kid, actually. Before the food pyramid, we had the four basic food groups. Back then the mantra was "4, 4, 3, 2:" four fruits and vegetables, four breads or grains, three dairy servings and two meats. So if you had orange juice for breakfast and an apple in your lunch, you were halfway there. Today, the food pyramid has given fruits and vegetables each their own category, and recommends three to five servings of vegetables alone. I wonder if they count ketchup.

So now I'm a mom, faced with the task of raising my own kids to eat their vegetables. While my daughter enjoys eating salad, asparagus and zucchini, the boys stick to corn and carrots, carrots and corn. When I get on a green vegetable kick, the struggles begin. All I'm asking is for a small serving - a taste, really. Even President Reagan wouldn't recognize it as an official helping of vegetables.

What's so special about green, anyway? You're supposed to eat green, leafy vegetables every day. Carrots are healthy. Corn is good, right? Why do I have to force the kids to eat spinach or salad if they're willing to eat baby carrots in ranch dip? Is it peer pressure, fear of the nutrition police or just the normal parental desire to do what's good for your kids? It builds character, and that's what it's all about, right?

So I strive for green. Green beans seem to be the least offensive, and even they don't go down without a fuss. But I discovered an important secret. If I can disguise the vegetable so the child doesn't know it's there, I can avoid the struggle. When the kids were little and no vegetable was willingly consumed, I tried to camouflage carrots in other foods. I grated carrots into scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes, with little success. But I have discovered the perfect vegetable-hiding combination. If you grate zucchini into your spaghetti and meat sauce, it disappears without a taste. The kids will never know it's there. Just be sure to dispose of those telltale peels, and you've succeeded in getting them to consume a painless helping of green vegetables. Only two to four daily servings to go.

Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children's author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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