The Nutrition and Health Link, Teen Edition

My children are not so perfect that they ask for vegetables for snack. They don’t always remember to feed themselves a fruit with breakfast unless I’ve mentioned it first. But if they haven’t had a few servings of some type of produce during the day, by the time dinner rolls around, I frequently hear “Are we having a salad? I need something healthy.”

The building blocks for this type of behavior started pretty early in this household – but by no means is it too late now. Obviously, just offering fruits and vegetables with every meal is a great start when they are little (no, tater tots are not a vegetable.) This requires persistence, however. I vividly remember my parental gloating when Song&Dance was 10 months old and would consume anything. Anything- I mean, I could have given her stewed castor beans and I’m pretty sure she would have eaten them. Then came the day, much to my horror, when she suddenly started throwing anything with a vegetable in it against the wall. Nothing I had done had changed. Nothing. As a lover of produce and a big believer in healthy eating, I was crushed.

I didn’t give up though, and whether you’re working on a stubborn toddler or a (potentially more stubborn) teenager, it’s not too late. Here are a few things you can do to make the good stuff go down easier.

  • Eat Fruits and Vegetables Yourself

Sorry, but teenagers in particular are very aware of any scrap of ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ I like to think this is a tool nature gives them so they can sniff out tyranny, but trust me. If they see you only eating meat and carbs, you’re doomed (plus, you’re leaving yourself open to a host of medical issues).

  • Give Them a Reason

A small bit of reading about nutrition here and there, such as the sort of articles you find in any Cooking Light or Eating Well or Health Magazine, will help educate you about nutrition enough that you can pass it on. From very early on, I would tell my kids, “this has vitamin C, might help clear up that cold!” or “red fruits and vegetables have lycopene and that helps prevent you from getting cancer.” Sure, it’s about as exciting as the back of a Grape-Nuts box, but telling your kids how it works for them will appeal to the natural self-involvement that teenagers are feeling.

  • Appeal to Their Vanity

In as non-judgemental a way as possible, tell your kids that their appearance is a direct result of their diet. Oh, I don’t mean relative to weight (although the fiber in vegetables will make them less likely to ask for more food 20 minutes after a meal). I mean the fact that the vitamins, minerals, and water found in most produce are excellent for their skin, and while a healthy diet may not totally cure acne, it is very rare that you will meet a produce lover with the worst skin in school. “I love having acne,” said no teenager ever, and sometimes they are doing all the right things for their skin otherwise, so it can’t hurt.

  • New, New, New!

Even if (especially if) you grew up with only peas and corn, try new fruits and vegetables and recipes showcasing these items. Maybe it’s an American thing, maybe it’s a 21st century thing and we’re all just victims of marketing, but ‘New’ is a big deal to the average teenager.

And when all else fails, cover things in cheese sauce for a year until they get used to them.

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