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Only 50 per cent of Australians eat the right amount of fruit and vegetables. Here are some tried and true tips, tricks and strategies to include more fruits and vegetables in your family diet.   

We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, and there is very good research confirming this. Not only do fruit and vegetables have protective effects for reducing our chance of getting cancer and heart disease, but anyone who eats the recommended amounts of two fruits and five vegetables are more likely to be a healthy weight.  

Adults are recommended to eat two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables, legumes or beans. The recommendations for children can be seen in the table. 

      Serves per day* 
    13-23 months  2-3 years  4-8 years  9-11 years  12-13 years  14-18 years 
Vegetables and legumes/beans  Boy  2-3  2 ½   4 ½   5  5 ½   5 ½  
Girl  2-3  2 ½   4 ½   5  5  5 
               
Fruit  Boy  ½   1  1 ½   2  2  2 
Girl  ½   1  1 ½   2  2  2 

 

*Additional amounts may be needed by children who are taller or more active 

What is a serve? 

A standard serve of vegetables is about 75g or: 

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables 
  • ½ cup cooked or canned beans, peas or lentils 
  • 1 cup salad vegetables 
  • ½ medium potato (no chips!) 
  • 1 medium tomato 

 

A standard serve of fruit is about 150g or: 

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear 
  • 2 small apricots, kiwi fruit or plums 
  • 1 cup canned fruit (no added sugar) 

 

Tip 1: Chat about Fruits and Vegetables 

Do you know what your children’s favourite fruit and vegetable is? I found it a fun exercise to ask my children. My seven year old daughter said mango and broccoli, and my three year old son said banana and carrot. This question led into a chat about fruits and vegetables and why they are so important in our diet. It is important to keep any conversation about food fun, light hearted and age appropriate.  

 I like to tell my children that fruits and vegetables are ‘super’ foods because of their different colours. For example, strawberries have folate in them which is important for our blood cells to grow. Mandarins and oranges have Vitamin C to help us stay well and heal cuts and bruises. Broccoli and baby spinach contain Vitamin A which is important to help us see at night and grow strong teeth. An easy way to find out more about fruits and vegetables is to Google them! 

 

Berry Smoothie
Serve 2
1 cup milk
½ cup baby spinach
½ cup frozen berries
2 tsp vanilla essence
½ cup ice

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Can add some honey to taste if desired. The spinach is hidden by the delicious berries!

Tip 2: Are they really hungry? 

If only I had a dollar for every time I heard one of my children say ‘I’m hungry’! My three year old will say this often after finishing his breakfast of three Weetbix, some oats and sultanas. So I am pretty confident that he isn’t hungry and I use this opportunity to ask him if his tummy is making hungry sounds or if he would like to play with his trains/get out his crayons or read a book. Usually it is just boredom and once I have set him up in an activity he is happy. 

Children have little tummies and can easily fill up on milk or juice (which I say doesn’t count as a serve of fruit because most juices don’t contain fibre). It can be useful to keep a food diary for a few days of what your child is eating as this can provide some clues on areas to improve. 

Tip 3: Encouragement and Praise

Children need to be offered, and encouraged, to eat foods. Vegetables are the most often rejected food – but each vegetable needs to be offered at least eight times before becoming a trusted and accepted food. I know just how frustrating it can be to see a child eat only one pea and refuse any more but the key is repetition, encouragement and praise.  

The jury is still out on rewards. The long standing ‘eat all your vegetables and you can have some ice cream’ can do more harm than good. If this is something that you are saying most nights then it probably isn’t working. The time when rewards of this nature can work is to encourage a child to try a food. If your child is refusing to even try different fruits or vegetables, a promise of a reward can work to encourage tasting, but after this it loses its value and may even cause a child to dislike a food even more. Beware of this backfiring! Noticing when they have made an effort and commenting on this goes a long way to improving eating habits. 

Tips from other Mums!

– Be creative and use cutters to cut fruit and vegetables into shapes

– Hide the vegetables!

– Eat together as a family

– Get the children to help prepare and cook the meal. From about the age of two children can start to use peelers to peel carrots/potatoes/sweet potatoes

– Grow some vegetables in your backyard

– Make fresh fruit ice lollies – puree some watermelon and add some sliced bananas, kiwi fruit and strawberries and put in ice moulds

– Frozen peas and corn make great snacks over the warmer months

– Vegetable pizzas with different vegetable pictures, such as a garden – broccoli for trees, carrot and peas for flowers

– Lots of different vegetables in small amounts often work better than just a couple of vegetables in big quantities

Tip 4: Plan to eat fruit and vegetables 

As parents we are in the powerful position of influencing what our children eat – but of course we aren’t the only influence – and our level of influence decreases as the children get older. So start early is my advice! If children see their parents eating and enjoying plenty of fruit and vegetables, then children are more likely to do the same. Children are more likely to adopt healthy eating behaviours when they have more than one person to imitate – so recruit as many family members as possible! 

 Children are often wary of foods, particularly foods that they haven’t enjoyed previously. Dinner time can be a particularly difficult time of day to encourage children to eat as they are often tired after a long day. If this is the case try lunch time and snacks to offer new fruits and vegetables when they are likely to be more receptive. Whole pieces of fruit such as bananas, apples and pears, or offering tomato and avocado on crackers or some vegetables sticks with peanut butter or a dip, are some easy, healthy snack options. 

Tip 5: Shop together 

I know that shopping with children is often one of the least favourite things to do. It is frustrating how things can take longer, packets can jump off shelves courtesy of little hands, and tantrums can occur. Consider visiting a fruit and vegetable market or your local farmers market with your child or children as an outing and opportunity for them to choose a fruit or vegetable that is in season that they would like to try. The rule is that whatever your child chooses you must buy and prepare, and you as the parent must try the food too. 

Empowering your child to make decisions about fruits and vegetables means they are more likely to try the food because they have been involved in the process.  

Finally, consistency plays a big role in getting children to eat their fruit and vegetables. There are always going to be those days where it comes down to a boiled egg and toast for dinner – but it is all about what happens most of the time.   

Almost every packaged food we pick up in the supermarket will have a food label – but who knows how to read and interpret the information on the food label? I am the first to put my hand up and say that food labels can be confusing, but armed with some handy information, food labels can become useful tools in helping choose the right foods for you and your family. 

 

Here in Australia, food that is packaged and manufactured must have a food label. There are a few exceptions to this rule including fresh food such as fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, very small packages or single herbs and spices. A food label will usually including the following: 

  • Ingredient list 
  • Nutrition information panel 
  • Allergen statement  
  • Product and brand name of the food 
  • Use by date or best before date 

 

Ingredient list 

Let’s start by looking at the ingredient list. I will often refer to the ingredient list first when I look at a food label as I like to know what I am buying and eating. Ingredients are listed in order of descending weight, so the first ingredient listed is the main ingredient in the food and the last ingredient is the smallest. If you see that sugar, fat or salt are one of the first three ingredients, then perhaps that food isn’t the healthiest choice. It’s also important to note that sugar, fat and salt may be listed as many different names.  

Other names for Sugar, Fat & Salt 

Below is a copy of a nutrition information panel from a yoghurt that was in my fridge. 

 

Nutrition Information Panel 

Servings per package: 4 

Serving size: 250g 

Here are my five steps to successfully reading a nutrition information panel: 

 

  1. Always look at the ‘per 100g’ column as this is always on foods and allows you to compare between products. The other column ‘per serve’ is determined by the food manufacturer and may be much smaller than the amount of food that you eat. Breakfast cereals are a good example – the serve size of breakfast cereals will be different from Weetbix to Cheerios to muesli, for example. But if you look at the per 100g column you will be able to compare and decide which is the best choice for you. 
  1. Energy per 100g – after the ingredient list, this is the second thing that I look at on a food label as it gives me a quick idea of whether a food is going to be a good choice. Great when you don’t have much time and a child or three in tow! 
  1. Total fat and saturated fat – As a quick scan, the best choice is to look for products with less than 3g total fat/100g and less than 1.5g saturated fat/100g. Next best is between 3-20g total fat/100g and 1.5-5g saturated fat/100g – which is where my yoghurt from the above nutrition information panel fits, as this is a full fat yoghurt. 
  1. Sugar – look for foods with less than 5g sugar/100g. Keep in mind that sugar includes naturally occurring sugar, such as lactose in dairy products, as well as added sugar as in biscuits. So if you are choosing muesli, you might see it is high in sugar and wonder why. This is where it can be useful to look at the ingredient list – where is the sugar coming from? Is it coming from dried fruit (where you also get the benefit of fibre) or is it from honey that is used in toasting the muesli? Again, this is shown in the above nutrition information panel, as the extra carbohydrate and sugars is from lactose. Next best option is to look for sugars between 5.0-12.5g sugar/100g. 
  1. Sodium/salt – look for foods with less than 300mg salt/100g. 

 

There are always exceptions. For example choosing an olive oil means that you will not be able to find one with less than 3g total fat/100g – so here is where common sense needs to kick in.  

Nutrition Claims 

I would encourage you to be a savvy label reader. Food manufacturers want us to buy their products. Here are a few common claims that you may see on food packaging – and what they really mean: 

  • ‘Lite’ or ‘light’ does not necessary mean it is low in fat. It may also be referring to the colour or taste of the food. 
  • ‘Baked not fried’ sounds like it must be healthier doesn’t it?! Always check the nutrition information panel as it can have just as many kilojoules and fat as a fried food. 
  • ’93 per cent fat free’ still contains 7 per cent fat (or 7g fat/100g) which doesn’t make it the healthiest choice. 
  • ‘Reduced fat’ means the product should have at least 25 per cent less fat than the original product. But the food may still have more fat than another similar food.