I know exactly when I haven’t been eating enough fruits and vegetables.
I will suddenly and inexplicably crave a large bowl of broccoli.
The truth is, I really love vegetables. The way they taste and make me feel from the inside out is unlike any other food. I credit this to my parents, who included a variety of veggies in all of my meals growing up. It wasn’t a chore to eat them because their presence on my plate wasn’t a big deal. Green, leafy vegetables and fruits like avocados and apples are as much a part of my adult diet as nachos, which frankly should be recognized as a well-rounded, versatile meal option for any occasion.
March is National Nutrition Month, and it’s a great time to talk about kids and food. According to the Washington State Department of Health, 30 percent of children in San Juan County are getting less than one serving of vegetables per day. According to nurse Julie Keeffe from the Community Health Plan of Washington, this is less than half of the nutrients their bodies need to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and more.
We are blessed to live in a community where farm to table is a philosophy upheld in school cafeterias. But, that’s only part of the equation. Kids learn directly from parents and the adults around them, and when they don’t consume the recommended two to four servings of veggies and fruit per day, they are at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases later in life and stunting their physical development.
Here are some tips on engaging your children in eating healthy.
• Start a small garden. Kids can be picky eaters, but when they participate in growing their own food, they are more likely to eat it. Don’t have a yard? Try a tiny indoor garden.
• Include kids in grocery shopping. Create a list of things you need for the week such as proteins, fruits, vegetables and grains, and let your kids choose what they want to eat. It’s also fun to visit the farmers market (it opens the first weekend in May) to check out row upon row of colorful, locally grown produce.
• Both Island Market and the Orcas Food Co-op offer free fruit for patrons of the store. So grab a banana for your kiddos next time you go shopping.
• The Orcas Food Bank has many nutritious options and receives fresh produce donations from stores, farms and gardeners on the island.
• Talk to your kids about why healthy habits are important, and why you encourage eating healthy foods and physical activity.
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables – fresh, frozen or canned. They add color, flavor and texture plus vitamins, minerals and fiber. Make two cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables your daily goal.
• Eat seafood twice a week. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, fish and shellfish contain a range of nutrients including healthy omega-3 fats. Salmon, trout, oysters and sardines are higher in omega-3s and lower in mercury.
• Fix healthy snacks. This will sustain your energy levels between meals, especially when they include a combination of foods. Choose from two or more of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein. The Academy of Nutrition recommends raw veggies with low-fat cottage cheese, or a tablespoon of peanut butter with an apple or banana.