Parenting tips to help kids eat enough fruits and veggies.
For a healthy and fit life, we need to be eating five (5) servings of fruits and veggies daily. Yes, I know, that’s easier said than done. Especially when it comes to children who eat many of their meals away from home at school, church, and in homes of friends and relatives.
I refer to the five servings a day of fruits and veggies as eating the “Fit & Healthy 5”. Here’s some simple tips to help you and your family members make eating the Fit & Healthy 5 a way of life.
Tip #1. Table Talk.
My grandchildren (ages 3, 10 & 15) come over to have dinner with me at least once a week. I’ve made it a habit while we’re making dinner or eating to ask the older ones whether they’ve had five servings of fruits and veggies that day. After making it clear that Fruit Loops don’t count, they have been very obliging in recounting their fruit and veggie servings for the day.
Not only does this table talk help reinforce for them the importance of the Fit & Healthy 5, but it also keeps me on my toes with regard to my own eating habits and especially what I serve them for dinner.
My hope is that these routine conversations help clarify for them what foods count as fruits and vegetables, and how much makes a serving. A single cherry from a bowl of fruit cocktail isn’t enough. I’m hoping it’s becoming ingrained in them to think about this on their own during their daily lives, and that is increasing their consumption of the Fit & Healthy 5.
Tip #2. Be a role model.
When’s the last time you ate the Fit & Health 5? How wide a variety of fruits and veggies do the children in your life see you eat? In general, children are great copy cats. They love to mimic what they see adults doing and saying. They are quick to intuit the attitudes of adults in their life. They will notice when you turn up your nose at Brussels Sprouts or frown when beets are served.
I love eating raw turnips. They are healthy, filling, and low in calories. It’s fun to see my grandchildren adopt my fondness for eating turnips because “If grandma likes them, then I do, too.”
Children need to see adults eating with relish a variety of healthy foods. If you can’t fake it, you can at least role model the importance of eating one spoonful of everything that is served.
You can also explore new ways to prepare foods that you’re not fond of because other ways of cooking them might help you to enjoy them. Overcooked Brussels Sprouts can be soggy and tasteless, especially if purchased frozen. But a stir fry of raw slices using olive oil or Sesame Seed oil and spices that you like -- perhaps low salt soy sauce or curry -- can be delicious.
Other ways to role model eating the Fit & Healthy 5 include keeping a bowl of fresh fruit on your counter, and encourage children to eat them as snacks. Another is to keep in your refrigerator clear plastic containers of carrot sticks, green pepper slices, celery, and other raw veggies that you and family members can grab for a snack.
Tip #3. Veggies as appetizers / fruits as desserts.
I have learned that serving the grandchildren a platter of raw veggies as an appetizer at the dinner table is a win - win for me. It keeps them occupied so I can finish my cooking preparations in peace while at the same time providing them nutritious foods when they are the most hungry and therefore most willing to eat them. Our appetizers typically include an array of raw veggies to choose from, including the most colorful such as brightly colored peppers. Fortunately, they enjoy eating zucchini sticks and sugar snap beans as much as carrot sticks. Olives and pickles are also well liked.
My DNA unfortunately includes a yen for sweets, which causes me to espouse the belief that you’re not done eating supper until you’ve eaten something sweet. While dark chocolate is my sweet tooth’s preference, both I and my grandchildren also enjoy the sweet taste of strawberries, blue berries, and other fresh fruit as well as raisins and other dried fruits. Certain fruits taste best and are affordable only when in season, such as pears. Sharing slices of a fresh pear for dessert is a scrumptious pleasure.
Tip #4. Sauces & dips are both a friend and an enemy.
During my lifetime, I have seen the ascendance of Ranch dressing as a sauce for dipping meats as well as fruits and veggies. While raw broccoli pieces might taste better to some if dipped in Ranch dressing, beware of the extra calories that it might add to a meal. If dipping in Ranch dressing is a must, then at least use one that is low fat and low calorie. There are healthy alternatives that also count as a serving of the Fit & Healthy 5. This includes healthy sauces and dips such as humus, salsa, and spinach dip. To avoid the preservatives and additives of processed varieties, consider making homemade versions that are quick, inexpensive, and tasty. Low calorie flavored yogurt also is a tasty dip for fruits.
Tip #5. Include fruits and vegetables with every meal, including breakfast.
When counting up their Fit & Healthy 5 each day, kids are at a disadvantage if they didn’t eat breakfast at all or ate one without any fruits or vegetables. Ways to help you and your family have a head start each day includes offering banana slices or fresh berries to eat with cereal or on oatmeal. A fruit juice with more fruit than sugar also is good.
A great meal-in-one breakfast is a smoothie made from dairy or almond milk, low fat yogurt, fruit slices (such as banana, peaches and strawberries), and a bit of honey or vanilla extract. Omelets with diced veggies (tomato, peppers, onions, etc.) and a bit of shredded cheese is another healthy meal in one to start the day right.
For more information about eating well, go online to www.choosemyplate.gov/. Popular topics on that website include “Healthy Eating on a Budget” and “Sample Recipes.”
• Eating Fruits and Vegetables: How many Fruits and Vegetables do you Need Each Day? at http://pediatrics.about.com/od/nutrition/a/05_fruit_veggie_5.htm
• Nutrition for Everyone, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/