Fruits and vegetables improve children’s nutrition, help prevent obesity and may boost school performance.
Fruits and vegetables benefit kids in many ways, including improved nutrition, decreased obesity risk and better school performance, but most children don’t get the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Only 22 percent of toddlers and preschoolers and only 16 percent of kids ages 6 to 11 meet the government’s recommendation, according to Ohio State research. One-half of children’s mealtime plates should be filled with fruits and vegetables in order to reap the benefits.
Children’s growing bodies require good nutrition, and fruits and vegetables contain a multitude of vitamins, minerals and other healthy compounds. Citrus fruits and strawberries are rich in immune system-boosting vitamin C, carrots are loaded with eye-healthy vitamin A and spinach is a good source of iron, a mineral that helps prevent anemia. According to DrGreene.com, apples contain 16 different polyphenols, which are antioxidants with health-promoting properties. Eating fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors will provide a wide range of nutrients that help keep kids healthy.
Fruits and vegetables are high in filling fiber, but low in fat and calories. Encouraging kids to eat fruits and vegetables instead of sugary snacks and fat-laden fast food can help children avoid obesity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 16 percent of kids ages 6 to 19 are overweight, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, respiratory problems and depression. A USDA study of 3,064 kids ages 5 to 18 linked higher fruit consumption to healthier body weights.
High-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, help the digestive system function properly. Constipation in kids can often be eased by eating more high-fiber prunes, apricots, plums, peas, beans and broccoli, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. As fiber passes through the digestive system, it absorbs water and expands, which triggers regular bowel movements and relieves constipation.
Better School Performance
Children with healthy diets, including high consumption of fruits and vegetables, performed better on academic tests than children who consumed fewer fruits and vegetables in a study published in the April 2008 issue of the “Journal of School Health.” The study of 5,200 Canadian fifth graders found that the kids with healthy diets were up to 41 percent less likely to fail literacy tests than the other children. A number of factors influence the academic performance of kids, but nutrition is an important contributor to better school performance, the report noted.
To increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, shop with your kids and let them prepare vegetable and fruit dishes. A child who makes the green beans himself may be more likely to eat them, notes an article by Elizabeth Cohen, CNN senior medical correspondent. Sneak pureed vegetables into your children’s favorite foods and stock kid-level shelves in the fridge with baggies of cut-up veggies and fruits and fruit cups. Shop organic if you can. If cost is a factor, however, be selective in buying organic, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics. The most important thing is for kids to eat fruits and vegetables – organic or not.
1. Set the right example. Children learn what they live, making it vital that parents set the right example with their own food choices. If parents are routinely eating and snacking on unhealthy foods, how can children be expected to do any differently? Setting the right example to get children to eat right requires parental self-discipline. Parents need to provide loving and firm guidance in making healthy and wise choices regarding food and snacks.
2. Choose healthy snacks for children such as fresh fruit and vegetables with tasty dips. Keep healthy snacks well-stocked at home, readily available and easily accessible for children to grab. Save cookies and other sugarcoated treats for an occasional sweet treat or special occasions. Never get into the habit of giving children cookies or other sugary-treats when the family meal is being prepared or is almost ready to be served. Consider offering a couple of bites of the vegetables or salad already planned for the meal to tide them over.
3. Provide necessary discipline. Children typically do not like changes being made to their routines, so expect children to express their dislike to newly implemented changes in the family meal plan. Calmly explain that “this is what we’re having for dinner”, and if children adamantly refuse to eat the planned meal, simply cover it and save it for when they say they’re hungry. Remember, your home is not a cafeteria-style restaurant where children dictate what they will or will not eat. When the child later says they are hungry, simply say “Well that’s good because I saved your dinner for you”, and then reheat as needed
4. Try a different vegetable every day and prepare it in different ways. Remember vegetables can be served, raw, baked, steamed, grilled, in salad, in juice form, stir-fried and broiled. Try a wide variety and in different ways until you find the vegetables that your child will like and in the style, they will like to eat them in.
5. Mix them in your child’s favorite meal. If your child likes macaroni and cheese, make it with steamed broccoli or peas mixed in. If your child likes spaghetti, mix in real tomatoes, mushrooms, or peas and carrots into the sauce. Sometimes mixing right into their favorite foods makes them eat it without even noticing.
6. Try juicing vegetables and mixing it with fruit. Make your child part of the juicing experience and they may be more inclined to drink them. Combinations such as carrot, apple, and celery juice are usually sweet to the taste and a big hit.
7. Offer vegetables and fruit with dip. Most children love to dip items (i.e French fries in ketchup) so provide them dipping choices such as a salad dressing they might like and let them dip away. Always make vegetables ready to at and available with lunch, dinner, and snack. By having them readily, available your child will eat when they are ready.
8. Offer your toddler many different types of foods and letting them see you eat and enjoy various foods, especially fruit and vegetables. Although infants often get 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.
9. Find foods that your kids already like to eat, like smoothies, muffins, or yogurt. Find recipes that allow you to add fruit or vegetables to them, like banana or zucchini muffins.
10. Offer visually appealing vegetable and fruit. Try edible faces with carrot circles for eyes, strips of pepper for eyebrows, baby sweet corn for the nose and broccoli pieces for the mouth. Kids will enjoy helping with the composition, especially if you deliberately make a few anatomical mistakes. Add wild hairdos with shredded cabbage, watercress, or courgette ribbons.
11. Introduce colour into your children’s diet with stir-frying. It is quick, so they get to see instant results. Try stir-frying peas, pepper strips, bean sprouts and Chinese cabbage, or a mixture of sweet corn, small chunks of carrot and peas.
11. Don’t overcook vegetables. Steaming or microwaving retains more nutrients than boiling. Although babies need mushy textures, older children prefer a little ‘bite’ and may like to eat their vegetables as finger foods.
Did you know?
- 56% of primary and 80% of secondary school students do not eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables.
- Research shows that watching a lot of TV is associated with children and teenagers drinking more soft drink and not eating enough fruit and vegetables.
- Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.
- Eating fruit and vegetables every day helps children and teenagers grow and develop, boosts their vitality and can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases – such as heart disease, high blood pressure, some forms of cancer and being overweight or obese.
How many serves do kids and teens need?
All of us need to eat a variety of different coloured fruit and vegies every day – both raw and cooked. The recommended daily amount for kids and teens depends on their age, appetite and activity levels – see table below.
Recommended serves of fruit and vegetables by age
Note: One serve of fruit is 150 grams (equal to 1 medium-sized apple; 2 smaller pieces (e.g. apricots); 1 cup of canned or chopped fruit; ½ cup (125ml) 99% unsweetened fruit juice; or 1½ tablespoons dried fruit).
One serve of vegetables is 75 grams (equal to ½ cup cooked vegetables; ½ medium potato; 1 cup of salad vegetables; or ½ cup cooked legumes (dried beans, peas or lentils).
Fresh fruit is a better choice than juice
While whole fruit contains some natural sugars that make it taste sweet, it also has lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre, which makes it more filling and nutritious than a glass of fruit juice.
One small glass of juice provides a child’s recommended daily amount of vitamin C. Unfortunately, many children regularly drink large amounts of juice and this can contribute to them putting on excess weight.
How to help kids and teens eat more fruit and vegies
Eating more fruit and vegies every day can sometimes be a struggle. However, research shows that we’re more likely to do so if they’re available and ready to eat.
Children may need to try new fruits and vegies up to 10 times before they accept them. So stay patient and keep offering them. It can also help to prepare and serve them in different and creative ways.
Some ideas to try:
- Involve the whole family in choosing and preparing fruit and vegies.
- Select fruit and vegies that are in season – they taste better and are usually cheaper.
- Keep a bowl of fresh fruit in the home.
- Be creative in how you prepare and serve fruit and vegetables – such as raw, sliced, grated, microwaved, mashed or baked; serve different coloured fruit and vegies or use different serving plates or bowls.
- Include fruit and vegies in every meal. For example, add chopped, grated or pureed vegetables to pasta sauces, meat burgers, frittatas, stir-fries and soups, and add fruit to breakfast cereal.
- Snack on fruit and vegies. Try corn on the cob; jacket potato topped with reduced fat cheese; plain popcorn (unbuttered and without sugar or salt coating); chopped vegies with salsa, hummus or yoghurt dips; stewed fruit; fruit crumble; frozen fruit; or muffins and cakes made with fruit or vegies.
- Try different fruits or vegies on your toast – banana, mushrooms or tomatoes.
- Add chopped or pureed fruit to plain yoghurts.
- Make a fruit smoothie with fresh, frozen or canned (in natural or unsweetened juice) fruit; blend it with reduced fat milk and yoghurt.
- Chop up some fruit or vegie sticks for the lunchbox.
- In summer, freeze fruit on a skewer (or mix with yoghurt before freezing) for a refreshing snack.
- Make fruit-based desserts (such as fruit crumble or baked, poached or stewed fruit) and serve with reduced fat custard.
- Have fresh fruit available at all times as a convenient snack – keep the fruit bowl full and have diced fruit in a container in the fridge.