Guest blog by pediatrician, Dr. Jamelah Tucker, MD MPH

Vegetables are a healthy and vastly under-utilized option in most American diets.  What’s the big deal about vegetables, you ask?  You may be surprised to hear this, but other doctors ask me this question too!  It’s always the beginning of a really fun conversation 🙂

The way I usually answer this question is in three-fold.  (1) Veggies are great low-calorie, high-density nutrition options.  This basically means that for a very low calorie count, low sugar amount, and low sodium burden, you can get in a good dose of vitamins, minerals, fiber, sometimes protein, and even hydration.  In effect, veggies provide a big bang for your buck! (2) Eating more vegetables at meals makes us have less room to eat less healthy and less nutrient-dense foods.  This is basically the “no room for bad food” argument.  And finally, (3) The Environment.  The growing of vegetables and grains – the staples of plant-based diets – uses much less water, and produces many fewer side effects on the land, the water, and the air than raising and curating livestock for consumption.  What’s good for our environment is often good for us humans, too!

Most parents would like to get their kids eating more vegetables, but struggle with it.  We know from USDA surveys that 90% of Americans (adults and children) do not meet the minimum daily vegetable intake recommended.  The great news that we know from pediatric and nutrition studies is that the earlier and more often infants and toddlers are exposed to vegetable flavors, the earlier they take to them.  Pediatric studies have also shown that learning to love veggies early leads to more veggie intake over time and better health.  

So what do we do?  How do we get our kids (and sometimes ourselves) onto veggies ASAP??  In our family, to start, we changed our paradigm of toddler and kid food exploration from “picky eater” to “new flavor learner.”  We then thought of lots of different ways to teach our little learners; from us modeling the behaviors we wanted them to repeat, to giving them lots of chances to try veggie flavors in positive, playful, and fun contexts, without pressure or pleading.  

Drop by for more about our how our family approached veggie learning.  With our veggie-sneaking palate primers and “reciPEAS,” we started early and often adding veggie flavors to everything the kids were eating.  As the kids got older, they even learned to add extra veggie flavors (and nutrition) to their foods themselves!  We made the vegetable learning experience less stressful for us, and fun for the kids.  Now that’s what we call a veggie win, win!

Copyright © 2019 Jamelah D. Tucker, MD