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Turning veg-haters into veggies!

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Catch them young Motivate children to eat vegetables with innovative foods.
Catch them young Motivate children to eat vegetables with innovative foods.

When parents are vegetable-haters, how can they expect their young ones to be veg-lovers?

"Please finish your beans!" "Swallow the spinach and you can have a scoop of ice-cream!" "If you don't finish everything on your plate, no TV!" Pleas, bribes, threats; sulking kids, shouting adults... `veggie-troubles' (christened by Bel Mooney in one of her `Kitty & Friends' books) are an everyday, exasperating occurrence in every household. Of course, everybody knows fruits and vegetables are full of the good stuff - nourishing, vitamin-rich, disease-fighting, great source of fibre, blah, blah, and more blah. But the problem is, all those veggies that are bursting with goodness are about as tasty as nasty medicine, while fruits are sweet and hence fine! Ever seen a kid hankering after a dish of broccoli or relishing cluster beans and cabbage? (If you have, congratulations - you've just witnessed the 8th wonder of the world!) Then again, are parents practising what they preach? Are adults any less fussy? `I eat potatoes and lady's fingers. Only," says Janakiraman, dad twice-over, quite unabashedly. He's not alone... there's 20 something Padmasini, who wonders how anybody can eat cauliflower. "It looks like - ewww - goat's brain. Oh, and I think radishes stink and as for bitter gourd - this vegetable should be ashamed of itself," she adds, with feeling. It's quite weird really. Any other habit that's so blatantly wrong gets a whole lot of attention. Look at drinking or smoking; laws are passed to enforce the right practices. But for the five recommended portions of fruits and vegetables a day, that will make all the difference in life (literally!), there's nothing much done beyond some gentle advice that usually falls on deaf ears! Little Varun says, thanks to his science textbook, he knows that vegetables make him grow stronger. So, does he polish off his plate of spinach, Popeye style? "No! I like carrots, potatoes and lady's fingers - the rest are a big no-no. I can't stand their taste!" Indira Rangarajan, mum of two daughters, is absolutely puzzled why her older one never took to vegetables, while her second was a perfect darling, gulping them down. "Every time I told my older girl that she will get glowing skin and flowing tresses, she simply told me that she didn't want them! And `bajjis' were the only way she would eat vegetables!"Parents too are partly responsible - feeding a kid a veggie-rich meal will probably take twice as long, and who's got the time or patience anyway? Several households practise the `two vegetables' system - one for the fusspots (deep-fried, in a vat of oil) and one for the others (something in shades of green). Then, there are others who get the kids to guzzle expensive cartons of `fresh' fruit juices to `make up', while some simply rely on multi-vitamin tablets to round off the deficiencies in the diet!

Action plan

How can you turn veggie-haters into veggie-lovers? Now, in the interests of mankind, well, at least for those who're patiently reading this column, we've got an impressive line-up of ideas to get people hooked to the green stuff. Please note - not all of them are likely to work with middle-aged fussy eaters though! * Catch them young - Janakiraman admits that part of the trouble is because, he and many like him, are not used to eating vegetables from childhood. Dr. Kamala Janakiraman, his wife, says training kids to eat `mashed-vegetables' before they're old enough to say it's `yuck' is the best solution.

  • Try, try and try again. If you despair, you're doomed to be a `two-vegetable' household.
  • Practise what you preach. Dads who want kids to eat their beans should eat beans themselves - lecturing about `greens' while eating `yam roast' is unlikely to work.
  • Motivate them with tales of brains and brawn. "`If you eat this, you can fight like Jackie Chan, while that will give you a superb memory' should work well," says Dr. Kamala.
  • Make it fun! "Transform vegetables into salads, kootu, finger-foods with a dip, halwas or sandwich-fillers," recommends Dr. Kamala.
  • With the right attitude, Dr. Kamala says, most aversions can be overcome.All that's needed is some perseverance and a little imagination... it's not really impossible to get your kid to stop sulking at the sight of spinach! APARNA KARTHIKEYAN

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