The good news is that children ages 2 to 18 are eating more fruits and drinking less fruit juice than they were seven years ago. The bad news is that vegetables are still missing from children’s diets and the place they are missing from most might be exactly the place to slip them in.
Parents have figured out that fruit juice, though high in vitamins, is also high in calories and can lead to obesity, stomach upsets and tooth decay. But researchers in Kansas found that 41% of children and adults eat less than one serving of whole fruit per day, so there is room for improvement. An apple a day may keep the doctor away and contribute to better health.
Even worse, though, is the consumption of vegetables. Those Kansas researchers found that almost a quarter of children and adults eat no vegetables at all on any given day, not even if French fries are allowed to count as a vegetable. So the goal of eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day as part of a healthy diet is not even close to being accomplished. Which begs the question, where are fruits and vegetables most missing?
Take a look at your own daily eating habits. Fruit seems a likely addition to an American-style breakfast but how often is it there? Skip past the traditional glass of juice and go for a whole orange or a handful of grapes or several apple slices. How can you insert fruit into your everyday breakfast and add it to what your kids eat in the morning?
Then take a look a lunch. Another piece of whole fruit might make an appearance at lunch but this is a good time also to get in a vegetable. The trick here is to serve veggies children will eat, not ignore. Try baby carrots, celery stuffed with cream cheese or nut butter, cherry tomatoes or snap peas but also try kale chips, dried seaweed, dry-roasted garbanzos and green peas, and other snack-like vegetables. Slip these into the lunch box in place of potato chips – those don’t really count as vegetables anyway, do they?
Add lettuce to your child’s turkey sandwich. Instead of jelly with peanut butter, insert slices of apple, raisins, or, of course, banana. Instead of a white-flour cupcake serve a pumpkin muffin. What can you do to up the veggie quotient at lunch every day?
Five servings of fruit and vegetables. Try not to see that as an impossibility for your kids but a challenge for you as your family’s nutritionist. Up the nutrition at breakfast and lunch and feel guilt free at dessert time at night.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.