Or: How We’ve Cultivated Kids Who Eat Well (90% Of The Time) Any article, class or book on Marketing 101 will usually mention some variation of the 4 – or 5, or 7 – Ps: product, packaging, positioning, promotion and price (followed by profit, we hope – all thanks to planning). As a mom trying to shove healthy choices at my kids, I follow the same game plan to make the product I’m selling – aka good food – reach my target consumer – aka my kids. Here’s how I do it:
1. Plan Ahead. Marketing lingo: Planning
Choose one standard fruit and vegetable per week. These are the items our kids can expect to eat for lunch every single day… so I try not to get too trendy. While I’d love them to have the season’s freshest, farm grown options – this is about shoving one fruit and one veggie in them daily for multiple days in a row. There are other options served at dinner and available for snacking, but the standards are served up on repeat all week.
So, I choose approachable, palatable and reliable options: grapes, strawberries, apples or kiwis (yes, with the little scoopy spoons). Their veggie option is typically carrots, snow or sugar snap peas. These may be nothing to write home about from the standpoint of excitement and originality, but… they are fruits and veggies that I know my kids eat daily without any push back.
2. Do The Leg Work. Marketing lingo: Positioning
On grocery day, I plan an extra hour for prep. It seems like something I’d be prone to skip in favor of drinking wine, but I’ve turned it into happy, brainless, alone time. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook or music, but just as often I run the kids out of the kitchen and enjoy the quiet chopping time… and possibly a little working out of my own internal issues. Ahem.
During this time, I might peel and cut carrots or celery into grabbable sticks, cut and loosen grapefruit halves in bowls for quick grabbing or dice a few large, less-than-ripe strawberries (they’ll get sweeter all mixed up together!) for morning yogurt or cereal while leaving the more appealing, bright red ones whole. This is probably the least enjoyable part of my approach for most moms… but it ensures that my kids are going to choose fruits and veggies and that they (the fruits and veggies, not the children) are not going to rot before their prime.
3. Cut Corners. Marketing lingo: Product
Please be sure to cheat with wild abandon. I frequently shop Sam’s Club for dried fruit (cranberries, mangoes and apricots) as substitutes. I would love to have the fresh, farm stand, earth mama victories every day… but at my core (pun intended) I’m just a run-of-the-mill, full-time working mom.
I’ll always grab cherry tomatoes, which are reliable year round thanks to hot houses, or enthusiastically substitute canned (gasp!) options such as mandarin oranges, peaches or pears in winter months. These may not be winners on the trend front and they may not pack the biggest nutrition punch, but you know what? Eating whole fruits and veggies for the win.
4. Make The Good Stuff Enticing. Marketing lingo: Promotion
I “merchandise” the hell out of fruits and vegetables, and my dedicated little consumers pile them into their figurative carts all. day. long. In other words: after I do all the aforementioned leg work, I work on promotion (because let’s face it, they can’t beat the price). Carrot and celery sticks are submerged in water in mason jars or lovely, recycled Bonne Maman jelly jars. My kids have literally reported “Mom, you make the best, snappiest, crunchiest carrot sticks!” Thanks, girls. I *am* kind of a miracle worker.
Crisp sugar snap peas are stored in a round vessel on top of the round hummus container, creating a natural mental connection (Grab these together!). And while I do not think kids need to depend on ranch to stomach their veggies, I’m not above keeping it on hand or mentioning how nicely peanut butter goes with celery and apples. Marketing, people. Marketing.
5. Make The Good Stuff Grabbable. Marketing lingo: Placement
Snackable items like strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are washed, left to air dry on towels to prevent mold (many are swiped in the process – win!) and piled into open containers in the fridge. Ditto cherry tomatoes, tangerines and bananas: everything is arranged enticingly in the kitchen or the front of the fridge. Placement, baby!
My kids sneak into the kitchen and snack on the good stuff, and we rotate between pretending we don’t know and smirkingly chastising them “No more carrot sticks for you, young lady!” and “If you eat one more nectarine, you’re going to sprout!”
Snickers ensue. Good stuff is consumed.
6. Pimp Those Fruits & Veggies. Marketing lingo: Placement
Not willing to peel and chop? Don’t feel judged here, homey. Buy those prepared veggies… but free them from their plastic cells and throw them into bowls and open glass containers. I am here to tell you that the kids (and the spouses… and you) will grab them mindlessly.
Which is more likely to be eaten, and which is more likely to grow moldy? Consider a cucumber left to rot in the veggie drawer versus a cucumber sliced into grabbable disks and merchandised in a glass container at eye level. How about a bowl piled high with cherry tomatoes bursting with flavor at room temp (as nature intended) on the counter versus a plastic container in the fridge, hard for little fingers to maneuver and filled with tomatoes slowly marching toward white, mealy tastelessness?
Put the good stuff out. Put it on the counter. Pull it to the front of the fridge and shove the leftovers to the back. Use this as an excuse to buy (and use) cute containers. The health of your family depends on it! (Wink wink, nudge nudge)
7. Eliminate The Alternatives. Marketing lingo: Price
This part is short and sweet… plus, you already know it in your core (again, I can’t help it…)
Get rid of the junk and bring kids to the table hungry. While it isn’t a popular opinion, I think my basic job as a parent is to raise good people… not necessarily to make them happy every moment along the way. They’re not out shopping for their own meals – you provide them. Therefore, they eat what you provide. The price is right.
We serve our kids a lot of things they do not want to eat… but they do, because they are hungry. We don’t serve snacks past a certain hour, and we don’t stock the house with goodies at their disposal. Our kiddos were taught to ask for food, not help themselves. This means they don’t always get their way, and they are often (cruelly) denied a snack or treat because dinner will be served in the next two hours. Generally, they show up to the dinner table hungry and eat things they might not choose on their own. Yes, they would absolutely prefer hot dogs, chicken nuggets, fries and soda or juice. Unfortunately, those are not provided regularly. We are not scared to send our kids to bed hungry if they don’t eat their dinner, or if they can’t behave at the dinner table. It worked out ok for Max in Where The Wild Things Are, right?
At The End Of The Day: We cut a lot of corners. We eat out. We eat junk.
However, we work to get it right more times than not… and we are fearless on enforcing rules. It is our job, and we tell our kids that regularly. Does all of this sound like a ridiculous amount of work?
I’m not going to lie, it takes a lot of effort. But at the risk of sounding smug, let me tell you why it’s worth it: Every single day, our kids grab fruits and veggies of their own accord. And you know what else? So do I, and so does my husband.
Our work here is done.