Over 90 percent of adults and children do not eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, 14.4 percent of Kauai public school students in grades 9-12 are obese, and the largest adult age group with low vegetable consumption is those aged 18 to 24 at 38.1 percent. It’s no surprise, as our staple plate lunches are so good, but rarely is there even a vegetable side served up on the plate.
September is “Fruit and Veggies: More Matters Month” and October is “National Farm-to-School Month.” It’s a great time to reflect on what our community is doing to create more opportunities for children to experience fresh fruits and vegetables in order to develop healthy lifestyle choices.
Na Pua No‘eau’s Food Sovereignty Summer Camp was an inspirational weeklong opportunity for over a dozen Hawaiian children to experience a variety of farm-to-table experiences this summer. They cooked with local chefs from Hanai and Hukilau Lanai, toured many of Kauai’s farms, and the camp culminated with an “Amazing Food Race” and cook-off. They left with incredible life skills of cooking, growing food, and making healthier food choices, as well as connections to future mentors across the island. They even got kids to like green juice, thanks to Misha from Aloha Aina Juice Bar!
The Hawaii Child Nutrition Program is making headway with their Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), which provides funding for elementary schools serving low-income students to purchase fresh produce and incorporate nutrition education into the school day. We’re working on a project with them to identify local producers, so that we can create more opportunity for Kauai-grown produce to be served in our schools.
This October also marks the one-year anniversary of the Village Harvest gleaning program, which harvests unwanted fruits and vegetables and donates them to schools, after-school programs, and the Hawaii Food Bank’s Kauai Branch. The program was funded by HMSA, and is run through a partnership with Malama Kauai’s School Garden Network and the Kauai Master Gardeners. In our first year we’ve been able to capture over 8,000 pounds of produce that would have gone to waste otherwise!
These are just a few examples of positive experiences being created for our kids. It truly takes all of us to ensure our keiki grow up healthy and strong. Here are a few tips and tricks on getting more vegetables onto your children’s plates:
– Start a small garden with your keiki
Kids will eat what they grow. At the Kauai School Garden Network, we’re always amazed at what we can get kids to eat when they grow it themselves! Choose things that are easy to grow and that your family already eats, so that your harvest is simple and eaten up as you get started.
– Have keiki participate in planning and making meals
Children enjoy opportunities to make decisions and be in control. Teach them to fill half of their plate with veggies of their choosing, plan their lunches and dinners, create an at-home salad bar, or take them to the farmers market so they can help select which veggies you buy.
– Sometimes it’s what you call it
A friend of mine’s 3-year-old son decided he likes veggies more than meat, exclaiming that he’s really excited about the new Hippie Cafe opening in Kapaa. If you say it has meat in it, he won’t eat it, so she finds fun ways to rename things like meatloaf. Do the same with veggie dishes and make them sound fun!
– Sneak veggies into familiar foods
One of the all-time masters at getting kids to not only eat, but love veggies, is Aunty Lorna Poe, a master gardener and chef/founder of ‘Ai Pono. With her passion for aina based diets, she incorporates veggies into anything and everything! Kale into guacamole, carrots and beets into marinara sauce, marungay (moringa) into pesto, and spinach, kale and eggplant pulped into soups and stews — you name it.
Make fruits and veggies a treat. Instead of going out for ice cream, sugary shave ice, or picking up cookies, try making fruits and veggies the special treat! Local companies like Aloha Aina Juice Bar and Kauai Juice Co. are ninjas at mixing fruits and vegetables into delectable treats kids love, and both Tege Tege and Fresh Shave create unique shave ice creations using real local fruit! You can also make your own shakes and sorbets at home with frozen fruit and a blender.
The body enjoys health when the stomach is well filled. A healthy diet is essential to good health.
Megan Fox works for Malama Kauai, managing several programs around sustainable food production and education, and is on the advisory board for CTAHR’s Kauai Master Gardeners.