At our dinner table last evening that one of the kids asked: “What were your five fruit and vegetable servings today, Mom?” Flashback to the wellness visits earlier that day at my office. I ask kids all the time about their favorite fruits and vegetables, and I teach ‘Strive for five’ and ‘Eat around the rainbow.’
But what were MY five? Coffee and a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese for breakfast. Oops, a missed opportunity. No midmorning snack break. Leftover spaghetti and meatballs for lunch. The apple I packed was still sitting on my desk. And here we are at dinner. The handful of green beans on my plate equals … one. One fruit and vegetable serving.
I think of myself as an educated person when it comes to nutrition, but until that dinnertime question posed by my child, I assure you that I wasn’t necessarily keeping track every day. I make whole grain choices, and I don’t buy a lot of junk food for the family. Our fridge is full of fruits and vegetables. Was the day I described typical? You can bet that I packed carrots and celery sticks the next day; I ate the apple on my desk and threw banana slices on my bowl of Cracklin’ Oat Bran! You can also be sure that I have been paying more attention to my own food choices. I’m surprised to report that, even in summertime when everything is fresh and delicious, it is not the path of least resistance to eat five serving sizes of different fruits and vegetables. Sure, I can easily double the serving size and have two handfuls of strawberries or the whole ear of corn, but a variety of colors create the nourishing “Eat Around The Rainbow” balance of nutrition that I want to serve as an example to my children and my patients.
The next day at the office in the context of a wellness visit, I asked a teen patient if his dad (who had brought him in that day) eats five fruit and vegetable servings each day. Then I asked the next family, and the next, and so the day unfolded. I wondered as I finished my chart notes for the day if I had planted any valuable seeds.
Kids love to watch their parents, and they can spot hypocrisy a mile away. If I am to insist that my children do the healthy thing, I should be living by example. If it’s hard for me to get five fruit and veggie servings in each day, how much harder will it be for for my children to resist popping Easy Mac into the microwave and forgetting about nutrition when they are out on their own.
Healthy eating is defined by so many ‘experts’ and regardless of the definitions, we all know it when we see it. Daily choices add up to a lifetime of good health, and NOT eating junk isn’t enough to say that I’m eating healthy. It takes planning, purpose and effort. Some of my favorite ‘go-to’ websites for ideas and inspiration follow.
So be forewarned. I may ask your child how many fruit and vegetable servings you ate yesterday, and you can be sure he’ll be watching for tomorrow!
Gayle Schrier Smith, MD
from The Vegetable Police Academy