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How To Get More Fruits and Vegetables Into Kids' Diets

Posted Jan 15 2009 11:46pm

I was reaching for a bunch of bananas this afternoon at my local grocery store when the sticker on a banana caught my attention. The sticker read “fruits & veggies more matters.” It turns out that September is “fruits and veggies more matters” month, which was designed to remind us of the importance of eating the right amount of fruits and vegetables every day.

What Are The Benefits of Eating Fruits & Vegetables?

  • Fruits and vegetables contain the greatest amount of nutrients per calorie of any food. They are also a naturally low calorie food.

  • Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, helping to prevent diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. Fruits and vegetables can also help to boost our bodies’ immunities, protecting us from sickness.

  • Fruits and vegetables provide fiber that is not only helpful in providing a greater feeling of fullness (allowing us to feel sated longer) but also helps to maintain the digestive system, reduces “bad” cholesterol and prevents diabetes and heart disease.

  • Children Are Not Getting Enough Fruits and Vegetables
    More than 90% of both adults and children do not eat the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Here is a run-down of the dietary recommendations for children:


    - 4- to 8-year-olds need 1½ cups of veggies each day
    - 9- to 13-year-olds need 2-2½ cups of veggies each day


    - 4- to 8-year-olds need 1–1½ cups of fruit each day

    - 9- to 13-year-olds need 1½ cups of fruit each day

    Tips On Getting More Fruits and Vegetables Into Our Kids

    Dips and Dressings

    Make it fun for kids to eat their veggies. Serve veggies with assorted dips such as hummus for vegetables and yogurt dip for fruits. My kids also love to dip apple and pear slices into a small bowl (about 1 tablespoon) of peanut butter.

    There is nothing wrong with serving kids salad dressing for dipping – especially, if it gets them to eat their veggies and try some new ones. Sometimes a little ranch dressing is all I need to get my daughter to eat her vegetables at dinner.

    Here’s a fun and easy yogurt dip:

    2 cups low-fat or non-fat vanilla yogurt
    ½ cup honey
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    Assorted fresh fruit for tipping – kabobs work great here

    Mix all ingredients in small bowl and serve with fresh fruit. Makes 2 cups. This dip will store well in refrigerator for several days.

    Experiment With How Vegetables Can Be Cooked

    My daughter refused to eat steamed or sauteed zucchini, and then one day I came across an oven-baked Zucchini Parmesan Crispsrecipe from Ellie Krieger. Now she can’t seem to get enough of it!

    If you usually steam your vegetables, try roasting or stir-frying different types of veggies to figure out the way(s) your kids most enjoy eating them. Just because they don’t like steamed broccoli doesn’t mean they don’t like broccoli – try it stir-fried in heart-healthy oil with a little chopped garlic or fresh ginger or maybe sprinkle on a little parmesan cheese and see if that might change their minds.

    Serve Fruits And Vegetables In Unexpected Ways

    I’m not talking about sneaking veggies into brownies, but rather mixing up a fruit flavored smoothie, fruit and cheese kabobs or adding chopped broccoli or spinach to cheese quesadillas, tomatoes to grilled cheese sandwiches or shredded veggies such as carrots, peas and zucchini to taco meat, macaroni & cheese, eggs, tomato sauce, chicken salad, soups, etc. Where ever you can squeeze it in go for it.

    Here are some of our favorite, quick and easy smoothie recipes.

    Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie
    1 cup 1% milk
    1 ripe medium banana, sliced
    1 tablespoon peanut butter, optional
    ¼ cup Ovaltine or hot cocoa mix
    Crushed ice

    Mix in a blender until smooth. Two kids-sized servings.

    Strawberry Smoothie
    1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
    1 cup orange juice (I like to use the different flavors of 100% juice blends sold in the dairy case – it makes the smoothie a bit different every time)
    ½ low-fat or non-fat vanilla yogurt
    Crushed ice

    Mix in blender until smooth. Two kid-sized servings.

    Tip: I sometimes substitute frozen fruit (i.e. frozen bananas and strawberries to reduce the prep. If you are using frozen fruit you will not need the crushed ice. I also love using the Magic Bullet – it allows my kids to have fun planning and making their own smoothies without any additional mess.

    Find more smoothie recipes and many more healthy meal ideas at: Meals Matter

    Think Beyond The Produce Aisle
    Just because certain fruits or vegetables are out of season does not mean you have to stop eating them until they return next season. Frozen and some canned fruits can be just as nutritious and great-tasting as fresh fruit. 100% fruit juice is also an option in addition to a couple of all-natural, 100% fruit juice and vegetable combinations that have recently popped up on our store shelves such as V8 V-Fusion and Juicy Juice Harvest Surprise.

    As I’ve mentioned in a past post, Fruitbu fruit leather is also a good option. With no added sweetener or artificial anything it supplies a full serving of fruit in a fun, portable and kid-friendly presentation. Clif bar has also come out with their own. I have not been able to find it locally yet, but I'll keep you posted.

    Get Your Kids Engaged
    Teach them why it is important to eat the dietary recommendations of fruits and vegetables with these cool on-line tools:

    Fruit and Vegetable Calculator – Let's your kids plug in their age, gender and activity level to let them see first-hand how many fruits and vegetables they need in their diet to stay healthy.

    Kids Health – Kids Health has created a game page just for kids. It is full of accessible information, games, experiments and movies that engage and interactively teach kids the importance of good health and nutrition.

    My Food Pyramid - Here you can download a poster of the My Food Pyramid for kids right to your own computer. This website also has games and activities for kids.

    Let the kids get involved in meal planning at least once a week. This will make them feel like they have control and will give them something to look forward to. The only rule -- lots of color!

    The best tip I’ve ever been given is to always set a good example. If your kids are raised in an environment where time is always made to sit down to a healthy, nutritious meal they will grow up to appreciate and understand its importance.

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