Believe it or not, when kids are given an opportunity to choose what they eat, there is a good chance that they will choose a healthier option. A few days ago I was at a local grocery store with two kids that my girlfriend watches – a nanny job of sorts. While at the grocery store in proper non-parental fashion, we bribed them with one selection from the store so long as they behaved during our visit. As we tooted around making our grocery selections, we came to the cookie aisle. Their selection was soon made—a HUGE bag of frosted animal crackers with sprinkles! So, naturally I asked them why they chose that bag of cookies out of the endless selection they were given. Their response, “We don’t have these at home.” I thought that answer to be fair enough; I mean after all, they are six and four years old. On our way to check out, my girlfriend wanted to get an assortment of fruit that she could snack on in days to come. As she was making her selections, the kids did something that absolutely surprised me. They said they “want(ed) some of these,” referring to a pile of nectarines. The fact that they wanted something else is not the surprise, but what followed should be a wakeup call. My girlfriend responded that if they wanted those they would have to put back the animal crackers. Strangely, the kids were so pumped on nectarines that, to them, it was seemingly a no-brainer. With each of them holding the nectarine they had selected, the kids and I ran (yeah, I’m a big kid too) back to the cookie aisle to replace the demoted selection.
On the drive home, I asked them a blanket question, “Why did you choose the nectarines instead of the cookies?” One hollered, “Because they taste better!” And the other chimed in, “and they are better for you.”
This short grocery store trip became a reminder and lesson to me that it is not always necessary to dictate what a child will and will not eat. Given a fair chance to taste and choose what they do or don’t like, a child’s choice may indeed be the exact opposite of what we assume. I assumed they would take the big bag of cookies and devour them as kids do. I never expected the HUGE bag of cookies to be trumped by nectarines.
At the Regional Food Bank we have recognized the need, but more so, the want of more healthy options. In response we have made a conscious decision to ramp up the amount of fresh produce we will offer to our partner agencies and, in turn, to the clients they serve. By the end of June 2012, we hope to have placed more than 10 million pounds of fruits and vegetable into the hands of Oklahomans who may have never been given an alternate choice. If the clients choose not to take or eat any fruits or vegetables that is their prerogative, but at least they will have the opportunity. In other words, if cookies are the only option there is a good chance the cookies will be taken, but if the option is cookies or nectarines, someone (maybe just one) may choose nectarines instead of cookies…but at least they had the choice.