Whether it's promising sweets after a meal or not allowing fussy eaters to leave the table until their plate is finished, in the long run bribing kids to eat vegetables doesn't work, says kids' entertainer Luke Escombe.
Luke Escombe who fronts The Vegetable Plot – known as Wiggles for the hipster generation, because they play earthy, roots music which is liked by as many adults as kids – is slowly, but surely, making vegetables cool again.
Before Mums and Dads knew what was going on, they had songs about avocados and Spanish onions stuck in their head, and their children were pestering them to buy more broccoli.
"Our emphasis is on having fun with music through characters and storytelling. We're creating adventure stories where kids are excited about discovering these vegetables," he says.
"These are the tactics that companies are currently using to market sugary junk food to kids, we need to reclaim them and use them to promote healthy food."
What's different about this group is they aren't aerobics instructors in rubber suits dancing to a backing track. They are real musicians giving kids a taste of the roots of all modern music – from blues shuffles, to reggae skanks, lowdown funk, country hoedowns, disco dance floor fillers and more.
Escombe grew up in a rock'n'roll world – where his father handled the freight for the biggest acts in the world, including U2, Bruce Springsteen, Prince and Pink Floyd.
"Appreciation for good music was instilled in me early, but I never understood why children's music had to be in a separate category – with songs about brushing your teeth and going to bed. Kids are capable of understanding so much more than we give them credit for."
He's isn't just an entertainer either, Escome is also an advocate for people who live with chronic illness. Diagnosed with Crohn's disease at the age of 14, for much of his teens and twenties, eating was a painful experience.
Escombe shares 5 fun ways to get kids (and their parents) to eat more vegies:
Keep it raw: Most kids won't even look at a carrot or a snow pea that's been cooked, but they'll happily munch a raw one.
Grow your own: Nothing will excite the curiosity and imagination of your children like watching a seed they planted turn into a piece of food.
Eat it yourself: There's no point putting veggies on to your child's plate if you don't also heap them on to yours. Kids tastes are shaped by the food culture they grow up in, and that culture starts at your dinner table and in your kitchen.
Make sneaky soups and stews: Soups and stews are the perfect cover for some sneaky veggie smuggling. With some vegetables, it seems to be the look of them, rather than the taste, that puts kids off.
Listen to The Vegetable Plot: Kids can't walk through the fresh food section of the supermarket without singing about avocado or Spanish onion – the songs pop into their heads and this makes eating veggies more fun.
For more visit www.thevegetableplot.com.au
Question: Are you surprised that most Australians aren't getting their five serves of vegetables a day?
Luke Escombe: Not that surprised. We're a nation of meat eaters and I think veggies are still a bit of an afterthought for a lot of people. We need to start thinking of veggies as the stars of the plate rather than just the supporting cast.
Question: What is The Vegetable Plot?
Luke Escombe: The Vegetable Plot is a roots music band for kids, families and foodies. We're all about promoting vegetables through fun, earthy music, corny jokes and good storytelling.
Question: Why do you love vegetables?
Luke Escombe: Because vegetables love us! As far as I can tell vegetables exist just to feed and nourish humans. All they want in return is for us to give them good soil and space to grow.
Question: How can we get our kids eating greens – without resorting to bribery?
Luke Escombe: Be creative and flexible. Try serving them raw. Try blending them up in smoothies or sneaky soups and stews. Get the kids involved with picking, chopping, cooking and even growing the veg themselves. Try serving the greens at lunch, when the kids are less tired, rather than challenging them with a plate full of veg at dinner. Oh, and listen to The Vegetable Plot while you do it of course.
Question: Why does bribery not work?
Luke Escombe: Kids are not dogs. You can't train them to behave a certain way by first offering a reward and then gradually taking the reward away. They are smart, agile, thinking machines, and deserve to be treated as such. Remember that the goal is to create lifelong healthy eating habits: not a bunch of short term fixes.
Question: Do you grow your own vegetables? How has this influenced your family?
Luke Escombe: The Vegetable Plot has been my entry into the world of farming and growing. I've met many amazing gardeners and got some great tips, but have only recently made the move from growing herbs on the windowsill to getting a vegepod at home and cultivating my own patch of community garden. It's a beautiful thing to do together as a family. Growing food connects you with your local community and your ancestors.
Question: Where can we hear your catchy vegetable tunes?
Luke Escombe: Our Season One album is now streaming on Spotify, Youtube, iTunes and the like. You can also grab a copy on CD from our website: www.thevegetableplot.com.au Check out our animated music video for Spanish Onion while you're there.
Question: Are you able to share your struggles with Crohn's disease, with us?
Luke Escombe: I was diagnosed with Crohn's at age 14. During my 20s and early 30s I was often housebound for months at a time, severely malnourished and in pain. Living with Crohn's gives you a very anxious relationship with food. Shortly before my son was born I had a big operation, an ileostomy, which has given me amazing relief. I've now been in deep remission for five years and can eat whatever I want, especially vegetables!
Question: What's next for The Vegetable Plot?
Luke Escombe: We're playing shows right up until Christmas and then doing a regional tour of NSW in January. After that we're going to get back in the studio and start recording "Season Two". I haven't told anyone else that yet, you're the first!
Interview by Brooke Hunter