Sending your youngest children out into the lettuce patch with a handful of seeds, a trowel and a rake may — according to some authorities — make it five times more likely that they will grow up loving vegetables. It’s their active involvement that does it.
Food researchers at Ohio State University and Cornell University in New York found that children were far more likely to eat salad when they had grown it themselves. On the back of this study some have been emboldened to suggest that gardens might help children eat better in future.
The general principle has been articulated by British scientist, Professor Marion Hetherington ‘If you want to encourage your children to eat vegetables, make sure you start early and often’. Her findings add to mounting evidence from around the world suggesting that early life interventions can radically change dietary habits.
This has got to be good news. Anything that avoids the need to bribe our offspring to get them to eat a single Brussels sprout is a tick in the box worth having. But what if this general principle could be applied in other areas? Could we courageously attempt to build the perfect teenager by using similar methods?
For example, might you give your two-year old a dustpan and brush and a twelve week course on tidying up after him and expect him twelve years later to rise at seven in the morning to vacuum his room? Think about it — no lazily discarded pizza boxes strewn across their rooms, no half-chewed cheeseburgers concealed beneath bedclothes.
What about teaching our three year olds the 24-hour clock and making a virtue of turning up at the breakfast table in time for their Cheerios in the morning. Would this act foster teenagers that returned home at a decent hour, or got out of bed before the middle of the afternoon?
If there were debating clubs for the terrible twos, could we look forward to reasoned debate with our thirteen-year-olds on lively subjects such as fashion, mobile-phone use and respect for elders?
Would introducing our young ones to a wider variety of foods much earlier than we currently do help avoid the age-old teenage complaint about there never being anything in the refrigerator worth eating?
I fear that the general principle of introducing good habits early might not extend beyond growing lettuce. Teenagers have been troublesome since the beginning of time. It’s their job to do what their parents don’t. Perhaps we adults should just continue to eat up our greens so we have the strength to take on our children when adolescence rears its ugly head.