Wednesday, March 10, 2010

FitCity: Are Vegetables Really the Enemy?

I grew up loving a lot of vegetables.  I took great pride in how much I loved spinach, of all things.  There were certainly vegetables I didn’t like and I definitely went through periods of being picky.  But my mom would tell you- I rarely shied away from the veggies on my plate.  Even today, I’ve always held a fond place for all kinds of vegetables- cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lima beans, peppers, artichokes, asparagus, edamame, and more.  About the only thing I don’t like are beets and turnips! 

But parents seem to be constantly fighting the Veggie War at the table.  It seems to be an epic struggle to get kids to eat vegetables.  I’m a regular participant at Indy and there are often conversations about getting kids to eat veggies, battling a picky eater, concern about a balanced diet. 

I won’t try to claim that my kids love vegetables.  I don’t push when it comes to vegetables.  I always serve them.  And they sometimes eat them.  

I gotta admit… sometimes I skip the veggies and serve fruit instead. 

But that’s not my point or purpose.  My concern is about the advertisers that want us to believe that their unhealthy food is a great way of getting servings of fruits and veggies into our kids. 

Canned pasta products are now advertising that they have an entire serving of vegetables- but don’t let the kids find out!   Even snack crackers have started advertising that they have included vegetables in their recipes- dehydrated, ground up peas, corn, carrots, etc.  Sounds great, right? 

But don’t forget to read your labels.  Because that’s where you will see that there is a distinct lack of goodness in those products.  

For example, green peas are rich in B complex vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin A and lutein.

Compare those peas to a common kid’s snack cracker that now “contains veggies” and advertises that a serving of their crackers equals 1/3 of a serving of veggies… well, the numbers don’t stack up. 

If you eat a serving of that snack cracker, you get 2 % of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of Vitamin A, 1 g fiber (4% of the RDA) and no Vitamin C.  And that’s a cracker that lists dried peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes as the veggie ingredients.  All veggies that would make a powerhouse of the RDA recommendations! 

Or look at the serving of vegetables in a can of ravioli… Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.  A tomato can offer 25% of the RDA for vitamin A and 32% for vitamin C.  A can of ravioli?  6% of the RDA for Vitamin A and zero Vitamin C!  Plus, the canned ravioli is loaded with 900 mg of sodium (the RDA for sodium is 1.2 g- 1,200 mg).  

I think I’d prefer to not battle over veggies, to keep introducing them and serving them rather than attempt to give my kids “sneaky” veggies and overload them with sodium and miss out on the actual benefits of vegetables in the process.  Most important, I think, is that my kids see me eating and enjoying vegetables.  If they see me filling half my plate with vegetables, snacking on vegetables, and see the variety of veggies I love to eat… they will have to eventually be interested enough to try it themselves.  It worked the other night- they had 4 green beans on each plate and I had half a plate full of edamame.  The kids were very intrigued by my plate and each did manage to eat at least one of my “popcorn flavored beans.”  Another night, I made the family a dinner that I knew they would eat (pork chops, white rice, peas) and I had a plate of roasted asparagus, steamed brussel sprouts, and roasted squash medley.  The curiousity of my plate being different certainly produced the result I wanted- my daughter wanted to try a Brussels sprout and even declared that it was good- it was a veggie victory

For those situations where kids just flat out refuse vegetables and fruits, I think recipes like those found in Jessica Seinfeld’s “Deceptively Delicious” are a great way to get those nutrients into those little bodies (and even a great way to sneak them into a meat-and-potatoes spouse). 

One thing that really got my kids excited about vegetables last summer was that we ate tomatoes and green beans and squash from our first ever garden.  It’s about that time of year now that I need to start planning for this summer’s garden and my kids will be involved every step of the way.  

I hope my kids will be the kind of kids who can be proud of their love of spinach or who can sit and enjoy a meal of an artichoke- like I did as a kid.  I don’t think there is an easy answer but I do know that any processed food that makes claims that make it all sound too easy… well, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is!


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