How the pet bunny helped my kids learn to love veggies

When I faced the prospect of adding first, six chickens and then, a pet bunny to our household, I have to admit that my first thought in each case was: “Great. More things to feed in the morning.”

Little did I know that Sam the bunny and the six Rhode Island Reds would actually end up helping me feed my two human kids.

They say that good role models are key in influencing kids’ eating habits, and since becoming a mom 8 years ago, I’ve certainly been very aware about what messages I send to my kids when it comes to food. I try to keep my own culinary peccadillos hidden from sight (bedtime? Break out those Oreos!), and I’ve always tried to model good habits and provide plenty of healthful fruits and vegetables as choices. It’s not that much of a stretch; despite those surreptitious cookie binges, I love almost all veggies and fruits.

But, even though my son likes some fruits and vegetables, he’d fallen into a rut of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, berries and apples. That was it. A good start, but I hoped he could do better.

Enter Sam the bunny, a forlorn acquisition picked up for free, cage included, at the feed store. He came to us with the hastily purchased bag of rabbit pellet food, but we realized he needed other chow, too. We knew rabbits liked carrots – at least, based on old Bugs Bunny cartoons, we were pretty sure they did – but it was time for some research.

Carrots, it turned out, were good. “I like carrots, too,” Andrew declared proudly. Ditto on the broccoli.

Sam’s tastes, though, were more far-ranging than Andrew’s. Leafy greens were another big player on the recommended list. And after watching Sam happily chomp down on kale, somehow, magically, my Quinoa with Sweet Potatoes and Kale recipe suddenly became something Andrew might try – and like. Whew.

Sam likes spinach and orange peels. Andrew rediscovered that he once did like raw spinach, and now could be persuaded to help me eat an orange – after all, we were doing it so Sam could have the peel.

Plus, it turns out that balance is crucial to a rabbit’s diet. If Sam were to eat nothing but his commercial pellets, he’d be at risk for obesity and health issues. It’s prompted some real conversations with my son about variety and moderation – lessons he seems to be absorbing as he thinks about his own eating habits.

As for the chickens, we watched them grow from balls of fluffy down into real hens. Then we waited and waited – and finally, after six months, we had our first egg.

The boy who thought he didn’t like eggs was persuaded to try one for breakfast, seduced by the novelty of it having come from our backyard.

It was fresh, with an impossibly golden yolk. He gobbled it. The toddler daughter, who will eat whatever her big brother approves of, quickly followed suit.

Talk about a lesson in local eating.

So now I find myself with children who love eggs, and a son who seriously ponders the balance issues in his rabbit’s diet and takes pride in sharing some of the same vegetarian tastes.

Having a few more mouths to get fed every morning has turned out to be a small price to pay, indeed.