Photo: Owen Franken/CORBIS
Getting your kids on board with your green menu is one of the easiest (and earliest) ways to teach them about a variety of environmental initiatives, from organic farming to their carbon footprint.
But figuring out where to start isn't always as easy -- which is why we turned to our friends (and childrearing experts) at Parentables to put together this list of five simple steps that will help you raise healthy, happy green eaters.
1. Start early.
How you eat while your child's still in the womb can impact his diet for the rest of his lives: Some studies have shown that women who ate a diet high in junk food while pregnant actually changed their baby's DNA so that the child was more likely to be obese, and other studies show that babies can develop a taste for certain foods, like carrots, before birth (which gives you even more incentive to choose fresh fruits and local vegetables as part of an organic pregnancy diet).
If you're a vegan or vegetarian parent planning to raise a child that doesn't eat meat, you're not alone -- celebs including Alicia SIlverstone are doing the same -- and your vegan diet can still lead to a healthy pregnancy: Just make sure you talk to your doctor to make sure you're getting the right variety of nutrients and minerals (and eating iron-rich foods to prevent anemia).
2. Teach their palates.
Kids are notoriously picky eaters, even when you aren't trying to teach them about choosing organic produce, eating humanely farmed meat, and avoiding GMOs -- they pretty much just want chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. But finding vegetarian recipes your kids will clamor for isn't as hard as it sounds: Try calzones, tempeh barbecue with broccoli, or a ricotta-banana-and-honey sandwich to give your kids a break from PB&J.; Add healthy snacks -- like homemade granola bars, pumpkin bread, fruit kebabs, and kale chips -- to help them get their five-a-day without the tantrums.
3. Get them into the garden.
Once your kids are old enough to learn where their food comes from, you can get them enthused about healthy fruits and vegetables by letting them get a little dirty in your backyard plot or indoor container garden. Grow a rainbow of vibrant veggies -- blue tomatoes, purple beans, neon chard -- or choose out-of-the-ordinary decorative plants, like one that moves when you touch it or a classic Venus Fly Trap. They'll learn about healthy nutrition and the fun of gardening, and you'll have a lifetime of memories to look back on -- plus you won't need to hide veggies in their food, because they'll be excited to eat their own harvest. Don't have room to plant? Take your kids to the farmers market and let them talk to their local growers and pick out a few foods that interest them.
4. Cook at home.
5. Don't get them hooked on sweets.
We're not suggesting that you make your house a no-dessert zone -- a recent study even found that kids who ate candy were less likely to obese than their counterparts who avoided sweets -- but managing the quantities of added sugar, corn syrup, preservatives, and food dyes that go into your kids' diets is better for their health and the environment. One key to a healthy relationship with sweets, says Jenni Grover, is to make sure you don't treat them as a reward. Serve dessert with the meal (not after) and you can avoid teaching your kids that desserts are better than other foods (and therefore more desirable).