I have an embarrassing confession. I am not a healthy eater and I don’t even know what most vegetables look like. As a twentysomething I was eating a salad (a big achievement for me!) and someone commented about my spinach. WHAT?! I was eating spinach?! I honestly thought spinach was yucky, slimy, green stuff in a can. It never occurred to me that it was a leaf. Ridiculous.
I am determined for my own girls to grow up healthier and smarter. Okay. I’m not going to get all crazy and never go to McDonald’s again. Trust me. I still want to eat cheeseburgers. I just want them to know about other foods, too.
Besides being good for your body, trying all kinds of food also gives you general background knowledge that aids in reading comprehension. You will understand a lot more about a book about pineapples, for example, if you have a background knowledge of what a pineapple looks like, tastes like, and how it grows.
So what can we do as parents?
1. Let kids see food in their natural form as much as possible. Yes, you can buy corn in a can. But show them what an ear of corn looks like in the grocery store. Or better yet, look at a corn field. It seems like common sense…but if you don’t show kids, then they don’t know (ie my spinach story).
2. Try it! Make trying new foods part of your routine. We have a “Try One Bite” rule at our house. After that bite, everyone is free to say “no thank you” and eat other things on his/her plate.
3. Grow it! Kids are much more likely to try something if they have invested their time in growing it. Start small with a just a seed and a pot or do a whole garden in the backyard. And check out these garden resources from the USDA: http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/garden.html
4. Pick it! Look for farms where you can pick your own strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, etc. This is a great experience to see how food is grown, harvested, and (if you are ambitious) used in cooking.
4. Make it a fun game. Slice up a few different fruits and kids close their eyes and guess which fruits they are tasting. Or try a few foods and put them into categories of fruits/vegetables or yummy/yucky.
5. Make it a family goal. Maybe pick out one new fruit or vegetable each time you go to the grocery store? After reading Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert we set the goal of eating everything in the book. As you can imagine, I’ve never even seen most of them.