By encouraging your children to enjoy eating more fruit and vegetables, you’re helping meet their energy needs as they grow while protecting their long-term health by reducing the risk of health conditions. Features Writer Rob Bullock looks at how we can do it.
Fruit and vegetables are good for us. It’s official. But many of us don’t eat enough, and not enough variety. It’s easier than you might think to ensure everyone gets five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. There are many ways to introduce more fruit and vegetables into your family’s diet. And, the wider the variety of fruit and vegetables you eat, the better.
Get into good habits
Getting our children into good eating habits when they are young can make a massive difference to their entire lives. Here are a few useful tips to get them eating more fruit and vegetables throughout the day;
Breakfast – A cooked breakfast, for example, can give you several portions if you have grilled mushrooms, grilled tomatoes or the British classic, baked beans! My eldest granddaughter always used to start her day with beans on toast! Delicious!
What about a glass of unsweetened 100% fruit juice as well? But try and avoid too much juice outside mealtimes because this can cause tooth decay. And, watch out for drinks that say “juice drink” on the pack, as they are unlikely to count towards your five a day.
Morning break at school
All UK children aged between 4 and 6 at Local Education Authority-maintained schools are entitled to one free piece of fruit or vegetable a day, which is usually given out at break time. If your child is older, you could send them to school with a piece of fruit to eat at break time. The School Food Regulations ensure that fruit or vegetables are provided at all school food outlets, including breakfast clubs, tuck shops and vending machines.
Lunchtime at school
They have come a long way since I was a child! Now they’re scrummy! I know this because as a children’s author when I visit schools, lots of them invite me to lunch!
These days a school lunch provides your child with at least a portion of fruit and a portion of vegetables. If you give your child a packed lunch, there are many ways you can add fruit and vegetables. Put a little salad in their sandwiches, or give them carrot or celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, satsumas or delicious seedless grapes. Dried fruit counts towards their five a day, so why not try a handful of sultanas or a few dried apricots in there too?
On the way home from school
At home time, kids are often very hungry. Take this opportunity to give them fresh fruit or vegetable snack. This could be a banana, a pear, clementine or carrot sticks. When they’re very hungry, this can be a good time to get them to try foods they might otherwise refuse.
Try to get into the habit of having at least two different vegetables on the dinner table. Don’t insist that the children eat them as that might discourage them, instead encourage them to try. Vegetables in dishes such as stews and casseroles also count. My mum always made lovely soups which were full of vegetables. I know that my granddaughters love mashed vegetables.
My youngest would never eat sweet potatoes until they were mashed in with carrots; she didn’t realise she loved the taste until afterwards!
Plan for success
Like with a lot of things, you need to plan ahead, and it is no different getting them to eat more fruit and vegetables. Making fresh fruit and vegetables easy to get to is often helpful. When they’re peckish, children will often reach for whatever is closest to hand.
Keep a fruit bowl in the living room. Encourage your children to snack from the bowl, rather than hunting for snacks in the kitchen. You could also keep fresh fruit washed and ready to eat in the fridge. They’ll be more tempting when you fancy an instant snack. Similarly, keep snack-ready vegetables in the fridge, too. Wash and cut up carrots or celery.
Family days out are prime snacking time and a good opportunity to get them to eat more fruit and vegetables, and it can be the cheapest option. You can save money by taking bananas or carrots, celery or pepper sticks with you instead of buying expensive snacks once you’re out.
Fruit and vegetables are healthy and inexpensive. By taking a little time to think when children might be at their hungriest it is easy to get them to eat them, and by spacing portions throughout the day and by having a variety, they will hardly notice! Why not give these ideas a go! And why not practice what you preach? If your children see you eating more fruit and vegetables, it will encourage them.