This article in the NYT originally, and then in our local paper answers 'why' Americans aren't eating more veggies– but doesn't realize it. It's not for lack of trying, for lack of public health campaigns or effort or money spent on getting out the word. It's not that there aren't enough posters in our schools showing cool kids eating veggies, or exhorting kids to eat more veggies, or smiley faces 'eating the rainbow...'
About 1 in 4 Americans gets veggies three or more times a day. About 1 in 10 teens get the recommended amount. As someone working with families (and according to nationwide surveys) I know that it is not for lack of knowledge. Parents want their kids to eat well and have good nutrition, but they don't know HOW to support it (and many struggle financially to do so. But I will put the issue of food insecurity aside for a moment.) What American doesn't know what they "should" be eating? What parent doesn't lament the battles over broccoli?
One expert realizes, "There is nothing you can say to get Americans to eat more veggies." -duh
(I would add, there is very little we can say to get our children to eat more veggies...)
The author and experts assert Americans would eat more veggies if they were cheaper and tasted better. A nurse admits she won't eat veggies because they make her "gag." (I'd love to know if she was forced to try veggies or clean her plate as a child...) They don't explicitly get to it, but the following quotes hint at part of the solution. Read these and guess what is missing...
"The moment you have something fresh, you have to schedule your life around it."
"An apple you can just grab, but what am I going to do, put a piece of kale in my purse?"
What jumps out? What is missing?
Sitting down to meals and structure...
As I have gone through my training (my reading, now being lucky enough to be a part Ellyn Satter's clinical faculty with access to their incredible breadth and years of experience, seeing my own meals and family's eating, working with clients...) I have come to believe that without structure, without the habit of saying, "I am going to sit down now and make myself/may family something to eat" (or sit down to take-out or a frozen meal) that improving variety and successfully adding things like veggies is almost impossible.
The parents I meet and talk to want their children to be healthy and to eat well. They try really hard to get them to eat veggies. They bribe, they hide, they sneak, they beg, they threaten, they reward with stickers or treats-and for the most part, it's making their kids like veggies less, not more. Remember that how to feed is the key to the what. That notion of the Division of Responsibility, which is the basis for the feeding relationship all but requires meals and structure.
The structure has to come first. The meals have to come first. They don't have to be fancy, or "fresh" (canned and frozen are just fine) but you can't have a meal in your purse or strapped into a car-seat. (You can eat that way, but it's not a meal where you can tune-in to hungry and full, tune in to appetite, explore new foods, flavors and eventually improve variety.)
If you're grabbing Goldfish on the go (and who hasn't for the kiddos or even ourselves) it's easy to wander around contented for the moment with Goldfish. But, sit down, pay attention to the food, and the question, "What might taste good to me with these goldfish, or to little Timmy?" might come up. The answer might be, a cut up apple, or some microwaved frozen squash with butter, salt and brown sugar, or a sliced tomato...
What do you think?