Moms Talk: Picky Eaters? Get to Know Your Farmer

Parents weigh in on how to deal with picky eaters, including trips to the farmer's market and signing up for a share in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)

“Eat your vegetables!”

We heard it a million times as kids, and we’ve probably said it almost as many times as parents. Well, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?

My two teens love fresh fruits and vegetables, but I can only take partial credit for their good eating habits. One of the best things I ever did as a parent started out almost by accident. Back in the mid-1990s, I came out of the Metro one day to find a flyer on my car from Great Country Farms, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm in Loudoun County.

CSAs give consumers the opportunity to get their food directly from farmers by purchasing a share of the harvest early in the year. This gives the farmers working capital to buy seeds, fertilizer, etc. Once the produce starts peeping out of the ground, CSA members get a share of the bounty, usually in a weekly delivery.

In our case, that meant a tub of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and sometimes even flowers delivered to our doorstep (most CSAs have central drop-off locations, but a few delivery directly). And it also meant regular visits to the farm out in Bluemont with its giant slides through hale bales, tractor rides out to the U-Pick fields, a general store, and a barnyard full of farm animals to pet and feed.

But the real benefit of CSA membership showed up at the dinner table. My kids would try just about anything if it came from “our farm.” They didn’t always like everything at first, but they would try it. And in time their palates became more sophisticated, preferring delicious romaine lettuce over bland iceberg and crispy gala apples over tasteless red delicious.

Morgan Hanzlik, a fitness trainer and Vienna mom of three, says the key is not to lose patience when offering vegetables, or any new food, to kids. “I read somewhere that you have to offer kids a new food 16 times, on average, before they will try it,” she says. “So if you don’t offer them different foods, they won’t be interested.” She relies on deliveries from Washington’s Green Grocer for variety on the dinner table.

Besides CSAs, there are plenty of other ways to help your children connect with your food supply and build healthy eating habits for life. Here in Vienna, we have a wonderful Farmers Market on Saturday mornings from May through October. Many area residents make it a family affair, and kids particularly like the samples that many of the vendors put out. They also love the “cow truck” of South Mountain Creamery, which provide farm-fresh milk, eggs, cheese, butter, yogurt, meat and more (they deliver, as well).

Practically a year-round farmers market is Maple Avenue Market, owned by Vienna-area residents Chris and Sarah Guerre. They stock a wide variety of produce, groceries and products from local farms, including their own. They are also a drop-off location for the Bigg Riggs Farm CSA program, and they have their own variation on CSA with a pre-purchase program that gives customers substantial discounts on everything in the store.

Yet another option is to “cow pool,” a clever term for sharing a whole cow with several others. Kim Brailey, another Vienna mom, buys one-eighth of a cow (about 55 pounds) twice a year from Maple Avenue Market. “My husband says it is the best tasting meat he has ever had,” she says. “I’ll never buy beef any other way.”

Another Vienna resident, Laura Bligh, also buys meat in bulk directly from the farmer, and says grass-fed makes the difference. Her daughter, Claire, a 5th grader, agrees. “It just tastes better!” she says. Claire loves visiting the farmers market with her mom on Saturdays and said that has definitely made her more willing to try new foods and new recipes.

Here are some links to get started:

Vienna Farmers Market
A producer-only market next to the caboose on Church Street. Run by the Optimist Club of Greater Vienna and open Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to noon (2011 opening day is May 7).

Maple Avenue Market
Family-owned grocery store stocking local produce, meat and more. Also serves as a pick-up location for CSA deliveries from family/veteran-owned Bigg Riggs Farm.

Great Country Farms
A family-owned CSA farm in Bluemont, Virginia, with lots of family-friendly activities, a general store, and weekly U-Pick crops, in addition to home delivery.

South Mountain Creamery
A family-owned dairy farm in Middleton, Maryland, with a regular booth at the Vienna Farmers Market. They also deliver fresh dairy, meat, ice cream and more to the Vienna area every week.

Washington’s Green Grocer
Another family-owned business that delivers both organic and conventional produce to northern Virginia. Unlike CSAs, you get to pick what you want in your box each week.

Local Harvest
Good basic information on CSAs with a searchable map

EcoStewards Alliance
A list of Northern Virginia farms offering CSA memberships or subscriptions.

Eat Wild
A great resource on grass-fed beef, pork, poultry and other meat, with links to local farms, including those that deliver.

Katherine H. March 02, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Christine, try giving things funny names (i.e., cauliflower as "Dr. Seuss trees") or see if she likes dipping raw veggies in a light dressing like ranch. And definitely try pick-your-own if you can, either your own garden or on a farm, and let her "help" with dinner. BTW, an opened dishwasher door makes a great work surface for toddlers to help in the kitchen. It's just their height, and if they make a mess you just close the door and let the machine clean it up!
Laura Goyer March 03, 2011 at 02:52 AM
This may surprise some, but there have been numerous studies comparing food selections in the toddler years in formula fed versus breast fed infants. Breast fed babies are more tolerant of trying new foods and tend to be more adventurous eaters. The reason, the flavor of breast milk changes as the mothers food intake changes and a breast fed infant is already accustomed to this variety. One of the many reasons to support breastfeeding Moms! I too am very excited for Spring, farmers markets and planting. Great article Katherine.
J Anderson March 03, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Definitely do a CSA or at least visit local farmers market...that food is good for you, is fresher and it supports local economies. But sometimes I'm not sure what we get..... Picky eaters - I was one and I have one.....we turn out OK. 8^) Sometimes I wonder if she just doesn't feel like eating vs. being picky. This might be of interest too: http://www.wolftrappta.org/uploads/Healthy_Lunchboxes_flyer_mar_2011.pdf
Laura B. March 03, 2011 at 03:09 PM
The bestselling book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan was a revelation to me and to many others. It completely changed the way our family eats. I also recommend Eric Schlosser's "Chew on This," although reading it resulted in my teen becoming a vegetarian. That changed the way our family eats too!
Katherine H. March 03, 2011 at 07:08 PM
I couldn't agree more re: The Omnivore's Dilemma. We already ate fairly healthy, I think, before I read it, but after that I pretty much eliminated processed foods from our grocery cart...and the things I do buy, I try to buy organic or non-GMO (genetically modified). In addition to the health benefits, I was very pleasantly surprised to see how little trash we produce each week! All that packaging...


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