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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

MyPlate vs. My Plate

Have you seen the new government recommendation for nutrition? This food plate icon is supposed to replace the food pyramid that the youths are learning about these days in school. You know the pyramid. It's the one that replaced the square meal that I learned about in school.


Anyway, I like the plate. It is simple and easy to understand, and it makes sense for any size plate or appetite. 

However, a complete half of the plate is taken up with fruits and vegetables. Just when I thought I was making headway with my kids and their eating habits, this comes along to show me how very far I have to go. Around my house, the plates tend to look a little more like this:

At least that is what my kids actually eat off of their plates. I could probably serve them a plate that looks like the one that the gov'mint recommends, but in reality, the stuff that gets eaten is not represented by the red and the green here. 

I like it when I view it as a goal; I feel like my husband and I eat pretty much like this plate recommends we should. I just wish I could get the kids to eat that way also. I realize that we aren't alone... according to an article I saw today, only 16 percent of kids in my kids' age range are getting that much (and even that is if you count potato chips and french fries as veggies, juice as a fruit).

The article is on, and it also offers ten tips on how to get your kids to eat their vegetables.

Believe me, I could use some tips. I am willing to try anything to increase the consumption of veggies and decrease the consumption of sugar around here. It's just that I really don't think that most of these work in real life. At least in my life.

Let's take these ten tips one by one:

1. "Get them while they're hungry." The idea is to offer veggies to kids when they are so hungry that they'll eat anything. I will agree that this works to an extent, but if the kid is adamant about not eating a particular food, he ain't gonna like it any better when he feels hungry. In my house a hungry kid is a whiny, cranky kid. Trying to make him feel better via brussels sprouts is not a great solution. Just tonight, as I was writing this post, the kids started in with "I'm hungry. What's for dinner? What can I eat?" I thought I would put this tip to the test, so I chopped up some carrots and set them on the table, saying "You can start with this while I finish up the rest of dinner." What happened? The kid who loves carrots ate almost all but two of them. The kid that thinks that carrots are okay if you have to have a vegetable, ate the other two. The kid who doesn't like carrots decided he really wasn't that hungry after all. My conclusion: If you have a kid who likes a particular veggie, this might work to get him or her to eat a little more of it. If a kid doesn't like the veggie, he will hold out until something better comes along. At this point, I am not sure I want to know if my kids could get hungry enough that they are willing to bite the hand that feeds them.

2. "Institute the 'no thank you bite' rule." This tip is to make your kid eat at least one bite of everything they are offered, and that eventually, enough exposure will make them grow to tolerate any particular vegetable. Believe me, I have tried this. The article doesn't account for kids who will spend an hour or more whining, crying, falling out of their seat, or arguing about trying that one bite. It doesn't account for kids who get so worked up that when they do try the bite, they gag on it, bringing it back up along with everything else they have eaten in the past few hours. Nor does it account for the fact that there are just some things that some people don't like. I myself don't like eggs. I will eat them if I have to, and I have eaten eggs many many times in my life. However, I really don't like them, despite the repeated exposure to them. I imagine it is the same for kids and their veggies. Eating one bite at a time of something you just don't like is unlikely, in my opinion, to make you like it. Around here, it just invites a power struggle that leaves me wondering if getting that one bite in that little belly is really worth it.

3.  "Make up cute names." The idea here is to entice your kids to eat veggies if the name is something funny. The person quoted in the article swears that her kids eat brussels sprouts when they are called "Hero Buttons." I will admit that I have used this one with some success... my kids do like to pretend that they are dinosaurs and that the broccoli is trees. That only works to an extent too, though. They don't care what you call it by the time they hit about age 5 or 6... I can't see my 9-year-old buying it if I tell her that lettuce is really GreenGirl's cape.

4.  "Shop with your kids." I've tried this too. Unfortunately, they don't want to buy vegetables any more than they want to eat vegetables. I have tried conning them into putting produce in the cart... but they are too busy pulling the cart toward the dairy aisle to ask me for pudding cups (which I have never bought and never will buy, so why don't they get a clue and stop begging!?!?!).  I say, "Hey, wanna grab some celery for me?" And they say, "Why? Am I going to have to eat it?"

5. "Cook with your kids." I do like this one. It is true, they take pride in their work and they want to eat their own creation... at least until they taste it. It works for getting them to try something, but that novelty wears off pretty quickly. Tasting one bite of a food is hardly going to fill up that big green wedge on the plate icon up there. I admit, they like the cooking. They like chopping and stirring and measuring. They like making foil dinners when we camp ... but they are very picky about which vegetables they include (read: potatoes and carrots. only.) I just can't always involve them while I cook, though. Life is just too busy.

6. "Have a 'veggie night'." The idea here is that if there are only vegetables, they aren't competing with tastier options. Oh my goodness, I can just see the mutiny if I tried that one. I might never even get the kids into their chairs, let alone facing their plates. I also feel hungry about an hour after a meal if there isn't some sort of protein or fat included. I find my self back in the kitchen, snacking one something that really doesn't resemble that plate recommendation. I am not sure how they think this one is possible. 

7. "Hide the veggies." This is the idea of pureeing and shredding vegetables and hiding them in sauces, soups, even brownies. I will admit, this works. I have gotten the kids to ingest lots of things they didn't know they were eating. It takes a lot of time and a lot of advanced preparation... and many of the recipes out there have a pretty low vegetable-to-other ratio. Is the 1/3 cup of spinach puree really worth it when it is surrounded by a pan of brownies? I do shred veggies into spaghetti sauce, hide them in lasagna, and I've baked them into muffins. It is assuredly better than not getting the vegetables; it just certainly isn't filling the big giant green corner of that plate up there!

8.  "Make fruits and vegetables the easy option." The idea here is to make it as easy to grab a bunch of carrot sticks as it is to grab a handful of crackers or a cookie. I will agree that this works with fruit... if I set a bowl of grapes or pre-peeled orange wedges out, it will disappear quickly. If I put individual cups of applesauce in the fridge, they will be gone before I know it. However, for my family, it just doesn't work with veggies. I have set out a bowl of carrots and some Ranch dressing... they ask "What else can we eat?" I have presented a plate of celery and peanut butter as the after-school snack; They say "Isn't there anything else?" 

9.  "Let them use fun gadgets." This is the idea of letting the kids run the food processor, blender, etc. My kids do love to make smoothies in the blender... which again gets lots of fruit in their little bodies, but no vegetables. They are happy to throw the vegetables in the food processor, but they aren't fools enough to eat it afterward. 

10. "Bribe with dessert." I kinda like this one. The rule in my house is that you should eat dinner until you feel full, but if there is food on your plate, you get no dessert. I tell the kids that I can't throw away the food on their plate just to get more food out for dessert; it's wasteful. I know there are all kinds of people who would disagree with this one. I understand the argument that if sweets are viewed as a reward, they become an emotional thing that make you feel happier and you associate food with happiness. I don't know how much I believe that, but I do try to make it about waste and proportion, not about actions and consequences. On the other hand, I have watched my kids clear their plates only after they learn that there is ice cream waiting. It's not exactly giving them a love for the vegetable, but it is creating a little more balance.

What about you? Do you have any tips or ideas for getting your kids to eat well?