Tips on why and how to get your kids to eat enough fruits and vegetables.
Five is a nice round number.
OK, it’s not exactly round, but it’s easy to remember and it’s the first number in the 5-2-1-0 program to promote good daily health habits in kids.
It stands for the goal of eating at least five servings of vegetables or fruits per day.
Benefits of veggies and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are healthy carbohydrates full of fiber, vitamins and minerals that are good for everybody. They keep eyes, skin and blood healthy. And they boost immunity to ward off colds and other day-to-day illnesses.
For adults, a minimum of two cups of fruit and three cups of veggies per day is recommended by the World Health Organization. Portion sizes for children depend on their age. Check out the chart from the USDA for more details.
Eating the recommended amount of plants lowers the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.
For children one of the greatest benefits is healthy growth and development, according to Misty Carlson, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at PeaceHealth in Springfield, Oregon.
Without the right nutrients, a child may get sick more often or more easily.
Plus eating more foods from plants and less foods from animals, such as meat, eggs, and cheese, will also help young people get into habits that will keep them healthier as they get older, she said.
Whether a child is a toddler or a teen, there are some things you can do to help them reach the “five-a-day” goal.
Try these tips:
- Set the example. Let your child see you and other adults enjoy eating veggies and fruit. When possible, talk positively about your favorites.
- Start with what they love. Does your kiddo love only apples and carrots? Take it as a win. And see if they’ll gradually accept other varieties.
- Offer but don’t push. Children often need repeated exposure to some foods before they’ll even think about trying something. So don’t give up offering. Just be careful not to push.
- Make it a family activity. It isn’t just the eating that’s healthy. Shopping and preparing or cooking meals with kiddos is an important way to foster pride and ownership in what they put on their plates. Hands-on learning and a feeling of family-togetherness are also powerful ways to nourish kids.
- Go raw or cooked. Some kids might prefer raw while others like cooked. Try different cooking methods. Dr. Carlson noted that roasting can bring out the little bit of natural sweetness in vegetables, which makes them more appealing to kids. Use a little olive oil, salt or other seasoning to give them flavor. Watch this demo on grilling seasonal vegetables indoors or outdoors.
- Slip veggies in. You can add a few mashed or finely chopped bland veggies to a dish that your child likes, so long as it doesn’t change the taste or texture. Smoothies are also a surefire way to entice kiddos to “sip” some of their “5-a-day” goal. Check out this recipe for a mixed berry smoothie.
- Make snacks smart and timely. Manage the after-school “I’m starving” moments by offering veggies or fruit with protein-rich dip to tide them over until dinner.
Avoid these tactics:
- Don’t use food as a reward. This sets up long-term challenging attitudes about food that might have to be undone later in life.
- Don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach. What works for one child might not work for another.
- Refuse to start a clean-plate-club. Your little one is still learning a few things about eating, such as how it feels to be empty or full. Encourage them to pay attention to their hunger cues. In fact, according to a HealthWise article, there is a clear division of roles when it comes to feeding children:
- Your job is to offer nutritious food choices at meals and snack times. You decide the what, where, and when of eating.
- Your child's job is to choose how much he or she will eat of the foods you serve. Your child decides how much or even whether to eat.
Fruit & Veggie Facts:
- Fruits contain seeds while vegetables consist of roots, stems and leaves.
- Most fruits and vegetables are low in sodium and fat.
- On average, fruit has more fiber than many veggies.
- Leafy vegetables are made up of 80-95% water.
Read more about the importance of the 5-2-1-0 plan.
Talk with your child’s pediatrician at the next office visit about strategies for making step-by-step changes that will stick.
This article is the second in a series about the 5-2-1-0 program. Look for more ideas about adopting all 5-2-1-0 guidelines.