We should all be eating five portions of fruit and vegetable a day but try telling that to your children! Here are some ingenious tips.
Let’s face it
Most children need encouragement to eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetable a day.
According to Department of Health figures, one in five eats no fruit at all in a typical week, three in five eat no leafy vegetable and half drink no fruit juice. All of which is rather alarming, since research suggests that following the five-a-day guideline can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer by up to 20%.
Finding ways to include all that good stuff into a child’s diet can be a daily struggle, especially when you’re faced with a picky eater. So here’s a guide to helping your children reach the magical five-a-day.
Start them young
Getting children to eat fruits and vegetables, the younger they are, the better. If you start when they’re young, good habits are likely to stick .That way, your child will regard fruit as a perfectly acceptable snack.
Sort your portions
The recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake for a child ranges from 60g to 70g. That equates to approximately one small to medium banana or apple, a 5cm slice of cucumber, six cherry tomatoes, two broccoli spears, and a handful of grapes or three heaped tablespoons of peas.
Give them a head start
Offering a glass of fresh juice at breakfast, plus a small helping of fresh fruit with cereal, counts as two portions before they’ve even left the house. Bear in mind that juice only counts as one portion, no matter how much your child drinks.
Keep it varied
Variety is just as important as quantity. Plant foods contain various compounds known as phytochemicals, and we need the full range to gain the health benefits. A good way to make sure you are covering the range is to choose different coloured fruits and vegetables, as it’s the different phytochemicals that give colour to foods.
Get them into the kitchen
Children are more likely to be experimental when they’ve helped to make a meal. When you involve children in preparing their own drinks or meals, it’s amazing what they’re willing to try.
Choose child-friendly dishes
Forcing your children to eat things they really object to can be counter-productive, so work with their likes as far as possible. Dried apricot, carrots, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers for dipping are all popular with children.
Go for balance
Remember that if you’ve fallen short of the magical five-a-day, you can make up for it the next day. Or redress the balance by focussing on darker coloured fruits and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and blueberries, as the darker the colour, the greater the nutritional benefits.
Grow your own
Home-grown vegetables, which children can plant and pick themselves, are often greeted with great enthusiasm. It can be as simple as bean sprouts grown on cotton wool in a small saucer.
Getting your children to eat their dinner is easier when you…
Monitor their drinking habits; children who fill up on fluids between meals won’t feel hungry.
Check snacking habits. Offer fruit and vegetable sticks between meals rather than toast or cake, and they’ll feel hungrier at mealtimes.
Keep offering new foods.
Build on your children’s favourite foods. For example, if they love milk, add a little banana and whip it up to make a milkshake.
Keep calm; children learn quickly that they can disrupt mealtimes by refusing to eat or try new foods.
Get children involved in cooking the meal.
Make the dishes as colourful as possible; this also invariably means vegetables will look more attractive and appetising.
Make it a social occasion with everyone sitting down together as a family.