Getting kids to eat fruit and vegetables isn’t easy, and it’s not hard to see why.
After all, how can earthy green vegetables compete with toothsome snacks wrapped in gaudy paper and relentlessly advertised on TV?
Just the other day, a shocking survey found that 40% of parents have no idea exactly how much sugar their kids consume on a daily basis.
In this blog, we discuss how compel youngsters to do what’s good for them – and replace empty calories with nutritious fruit and vegetables.
Why Children Should Eat Fruit and Vegetables
There’s no overstating it: fruit and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet.
Brimming with essential nutrients including vitamins and minerals, plus unique phytonutrients from the plant world, they play an important role in a young person’s growth and development.
Last year, an Imperial College study showed that eating 10 portions per day correlated with a 33% reduced risk of stroke; a 31% reduction in premature death; a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease; a 24% reduced risk of heart disease; and a 13% reduced risk of total cancer.
You may think most of these figures are irrelevant (heart disease is not common among children), but there’s no denying the base truth: that such foods have formidable protective properties throughout one’s lifetime.
10-a-day, incidentally, is equivalent to an apple, a pear, a glass of orange juice, half a grapefruit, two asparagus spears, a tomato, two kiwi fruit, eight cauliflower florets, a banana and three tablespoons of peas.
If that sounds impossible, a smoothie might be a good option – more details further down the page.
As well as vitamins and minerals, fruit and vegetables are great sources of dietary fibre, which helps keep things moving in the digestive tract.
Fibre also feeds beneficial gut bacteria, thereby nurturing immunity, and promotes the ‘fullness’ factor to assure a healthy body weight.
Research highlights a link between high-fibre diets and reduced sugar and fat consumption.
Not only that, but fibre reduces one’s risk of diabetes and arthritis and lowers mortality.
Encouraging children to eat five, seven or ten portions a day will ultimately ensure that they avoid nutritional deficiencies, maintain robust immunity and enjoy high energy levels.
Why Kids Don’t Eat Fruit and Vegetables
There are many reasons why children snub their five-a-day. Much of it comes down to this: they prefer tasty high-fat, high-sugar foods instead.
Is it any wonder? According to a narrative review printed in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year, sugar is refined from plants to yield pure white crystals – a process which significantly increases its “addictive properties.”
Co-author James DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist, described sugar as “probably the most consumed addictive substance around the world.”
Take a 330ml can of Coke as just one example. Did you know that it contains 35g of sugar – the equivalent of 7 spoonfuls, exceeding the recommended daily allowance?
Another reason why kids don’t eat fruit and vegetables is that parents are giving up on convincing them to so – at least according to a 2018 survey.
A poll of 2,000 parents of kids aged 10 and under found that 41% have stopped trying to get their little ones to eat nutritiously; because they’re more focused on getting them to eat full stop.
We should bear in mind that most adults fail to consume five-a-day themselves – making it even more difficult to instill healthy habits in the next generation.
According to a study by Diabetes UK, less than one in five adults manage this modest daily target.
For some of the parents in the former study, their child’s refusal to eat fruit and vegetables was explained simply: 28% of kids said they didn’t enjoy the taste.
Again, this is easy to appreciate given the aforementioned “tasty and addictive” alternatives.
How to Get Your Child to Eat Vegetables and Fruit
There are several useful tactics you can employ to move your kid towards five-a-day.
• Lead by example: enjoy fruit and vegetables as part of your diet and your children – with any luck – will follow suit. Remember that food neophobia, a fear of unknown foods, peaks between the age of two and six. But veggies won’t be ‘unknown’ if Mum and Dad eat them every day.
• Be patient. The habits you help to create will remain with your progeny for many years. It might not happen right away, but don’t lose heart.
• Involve children in food prep and planning; take them to the farmers’ market and let them see, feel and smell the fresh produce.
• Set your little one a challenge of consuming five different coloured fruit and vegetables a day. Incentivise them without resorting to bribes.
• Don’t make them finish. Disputes and punishments arising from a child’s refusal to eat create a negative experience and has a counterproductive effect. Instead, insist on a ‘one bite’ rule where kids must eat one solid mouthful whenever fruit/veg is served.
• Use seasoning. You’d be surprised how much tastier vegetables can be with a little sea salt or black pepper. Occasionally sprinkling with grated cheese also makes veggies more appetising.
• Make a smoothie. A vibrant green drink is more appealing than a heap of kale or broccoli. If you’re worried about vegetables going bad, use a frozen mix. Add fruit, peanut butter or flaxseed oil to sweeten the taste but try to avoid high-sugar fruit juices. Be creative.
Children’s Simple Green Smoothie Ideas
Amy and Natalie at Superhealthykids.com have come up with a great series of kid-friendly smoothie ideas: everything from strawberry banana flax smoothies to fresh fruit slushes. You can view the list here.
Of course, you can adapt recipes to cater for your own child’s tastes. Be aware, though, that a dislike of kale doesn’t mean you can’t add it; you’ll just need to mask the flavour with fruit, other veggies, nut butter, almond milk or some other combination of ingredients.
To simplify matters, you might also consider using a natural superfood blend containing various healthy whole food ingredients.
Quality greens supplements combine vegetables, fruits, cereal grasses, algae and botanicals, each ingredient compacted and distilled into powdered form.
They’re especially helpful when you (or your child) are on-the-go, and they require minimal planning: just put a scoop in a shaker in the morning, then add water when you’re ready to drink.
In summary, dealing with a child’s fruit and/or vegetable phobia requires patience, persistence and encouragement. It also requires that you set an example through eating plenty of greens yourself.
Follow the tips given above and, bit by bit, you’ll turn your child’s reluctance into joyful relish. OK, perhaps that’s ambitious… But you’ll certainly improve their chances of hitting 5-a-day.
If you do try a greens formula, it’ll definitely help them meet that target. However, it doesn’t mean abandoning cooked vegetables or giving up on fruit. As with any supplement, it should be used in conjunction with a healthy and nutritious diet.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Lead by example: enjoy fruit and vegetables as part of your diet and your children – with any luck – will follow suit.