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|
*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!
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.