A story I read the other day really got me thinking. The Produce for Better Health Web site, www.5aday.org, reported that an estimated one-third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, and that scientists now believe that today's children may actually have a shorter lifespan than their parents because of it. This ties in with other startling statistics showing rates of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension in Americans have reached epidemic proportions. If we could get kids to chow down on more fruits and veggies, we could take a bite out of these preventable epidemics.
As I was working in a produce department later that afternoon, I heard these comments from parents: "Oh, you don't like that," to a kid asking for some broccoli. And, "Would you like your cookie before your apple?" to a tired child in a stroller.
The story, plus these comments, really got my wheels turning. I know we can't tell folks how to raise their kids, but we might be able to help them with the daily task of feeding them more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Let's start with the broccoli comment. Maybe the kid didn't like broccoli the way it was fixed the first time he tried it. At a recent family gathering, Grandma made blanched broccoli with peanut sauce as a snack, and kids and adults alike chowed it down. The broccoli was cooked crisp-tender, and the peanut sauce was thinned with water and seasoned with cilantro, garlic and a pinch of cayenne. Mmm, mmm.
Some small adjustments in our thinking and displays in our produce departments might go far in making fruits and veggies more kid-friendly. You could start by making a display that includes all of the items for broccoli with peanut sauce, including a takeaway recipe card and a sample for kids and parents to try. You could vary the display with different nut butters and produce items each week.
Put a blender in the middle of a fresh berry and peach display, along with some yogurt on ice, a takeaway smoothie recipe card and some cups of samples for kids and parents to try.
A display that features a "Family Fun Feast" contest could get folks thinking about different ways to entice their kids to eat more fruits and veggies during meals. Award the person with a gift certificate for produce to the cleverest idea.
Who knows? Kids may want to graze straight from your stands. My friend Dina was talking to a mom when she looked over and noticed a young kid taking a bite right out of the broccoli on display. The mom was embarrassed, Dina was pleasantly surprised and the kid was happy. While you can't have people eating from the stand for health reasons, it is a compliment to your department. Of course, Dina gave the kid the broccoli. On the next visit, we had a plate of broccoli for the little nipper to munch on.
For additional tips on getting kids to eat more produce, visit www.fruitsand veggiesmorematters.org.
Mark Mulcahy has 25 years experience in the organic produce industry. He is the produce director for New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, Calif. Contact him at [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 5/p. 32