National 5 A Day Week has an important goal, getting people to eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Meeting this goal will help you stay within the Food Guide Pyramid guidelines of eating 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit.
But how do you get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, especially when they may only want to eat chicken nuggets and french fries and you are not supposed to force kids to ‘clean their plate’ or make meals a power struggle?
It can help to start early, offering your toddler lots of different types of foods and letting them see you eat and enjoy a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Although infants often get a lot of fruit and vegetable baby foods, once they start eating table food, what you eat is going to be a big influence on what your kids like to eat. If you rarely serve vegetables with meals or eat fruit, don’t be surprised if your kids develop the same tastes.
According to one study1, ‘children’s food preferences and food-intake patterns may be shaped largely by the foods parents choose to make available to children and persistence in presenting a food that initially is rejected.’
So offer your toddler and preschool age child a lot of different foods, even if he is neophobic, or quick to reject new foods, as it can help him learn to like a variety of foods. Remember that ‘if children have repeated opportunities to sample new foods, then at least some of them will be accepted.’ That may mean that you have to offer a small tablespoon size portion of green beans 10-15 times before your child will even try it.
The above study also found that ‘picky eaters were breastfed for fewer than 6 months,’ so breastfeeding for longer than 6 months may have the additional benefit of preventing kids from being picky eaters.
What if you didn’t teach your toddler to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables?
Is it too late?
Probably. Another report2 has shown that the ‘number of foods kids like does not change much from the age of two or three to age eight’ and that ‘new foods are often more likely accepted at age two to four than at four to eight.’
That doesn’t mean that it is too late to get your older kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, but rather that they won’t do it on their own and that you are going to have to work at it.
5 A Day for Kids
One trick that often works for both fruits and vegetables is to find foods that your kids already like to eat, like smoothies, muffins, yogurt, etc., and find recipes that allow you to add fruits or vegetables to them, like banana or zucchini muffins.
The easiest way to get some fruit into your child is to switch from soda and fruit drinks to 100% fruit juice. Although eating whole fruit is better because it also has fiber, 4-6 oz of 100% fruit juice for children 1-6 years old and 8-12 ounces for older children is an easy way to ‘eat’ 1-2 servings of fruit.
Remember that fruit snacks, even those made with ‘real’ fruit, fruit drinks and other snacks with artificial fruit don’t count as a serving of fruit.
Other helpful tips might be to:
- let your kids pick the fruits they want to eat when you go shopping
- mix fruit pieces in with yogurt or serve them with a dip
- make fruit smoothies
- offer a fruit salad, with a mix of watermelon, grapes, strawberries, etc. as a dessert or snack
- make a snack mix with raisins, nuts and cereal
- add chopped fruit, especially berries and bananas, to your child’s cereal
- try dried fruits
- mix in some chopped fruit with jell-o
Fruit isn’t usually the big problem though. Getting kids to eat their veggies is usually the bigger challenge.
Creative ways to get your kids to eat more vegetables can include camouflaging them in with other foods, like chopping up and mixing vegetables in with pasta sauces, lasagna, casseroles, soup, chili, omelets, etc. or adding veggie toppings to pizza. You can even find recipes for things like banana raisin pancakes, carrot beef meatballs or zucchini cookies, that your kids might enjoy.
It might also help to:
- offer chopped veggies with a dip, like ranch dressing
- serve vegetables as a stir-fry
- let your child help prepare the meal
- start a vegetable garden at home so your kids can eat the vegetables they grow or visit a farm or farmer’s market.
What about popcorn? Although often thought of as a grain, it is really just popped corn, which is a vegetable, right? Maybe. But popcorn is usually thought of as a starch or gain and doesn’t count as a serving of vegetables.
Getting kids to eat well, and especially eat fruits and vegetables is a challenge for many parents. To help prevent your child from becoming a picky eater, you should:
- start early by offering a large variety of foods to your toddler
- make mealtimes fun and don’t try to force your kids to eat things they don’t want
- look for creative ways to offer your kids fruits and vegetables
If all else fails, consider offering a multi-vitamin and talk to your Pediatrician.
It can also help to learn about the serving sizes of fruits and vegetables so that your expectations aren’t too high. For toddlers, a serving of vegetables may be as small as a tablespoon per year of age and a 1/2 piece of fresh fruit. Older kids should eat 1 whole fruit, 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw vegetables to count as a serving.
Shudokan Black Belt Academy – helping keep kids healthy – Aikido Nottingham