How to get your kids to eat five a day
We should all be eating five portions of fruit and veg a day – but try telling that to the kids. Here are some ingenious tips.
Let’s face it
Most kids need encouragement to eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
According to Department of Health figures, one in five eat no fruit at all in a typical week, three in five eat no leafy vegetables and half drink no fruit juice. All of which is rather alarming, given that 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 build 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 kids reach the magical five-a-day.
Start them young
The younger children start eating fruit and veg, the better. “If you start young, good habits are likely to stick,” says Jane Tobias, a Glasgow-based nutritional therapist. “That way, your child will regard fruit as a perfectly acceptable snack.”
Sort your portions
The recommended daily fruit and veg intake for a child ranges from 60g-70g. That equates to approximately one small to medium banana or apple, a 5cm slice of cucumber, six cherry tomatoes, two broccoli spears, 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, notches up 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 glugs.
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 fruit and veg, as it’s the different phytochemicals that give food its colour.
Get them into the kitchen
Kids 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’ll try,” says Jane Tobias.
Choose child-friendly dishes
Forcing your kids to eat things they really object to can be counter-productive, so work with their likes as far as possible. Dried apricots, carrots, sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes, berries, grapes and crudités for dipping are all popular among children.
Go for balance
Remember that if you’ve fallen short of the magical five one day, you can make up for it the next. Or redress the balance by focussing on darker coloured fruit and veg such as spinach, broccoli and blueberries, as the darker the colour, the bigger the nutritional hit.
Grow your own
“Home-grown vegetables, which children can plant and pick themselves, are often greeted with great enthusiasm,” says Jane Tobias. “It can be as simple as cress seeds grown on cotton wool in empty eggshells.”
Engage their interest
Encourage children to meet the five-a-day targets by downloading fill-in wallcharts from 5aday.nhs.uk.
Fiona Gibson’s new novel, Mummy said the F-word, is out now (Hodder, £12.99).
And here are some top tips on how to get your kids to eat their dinner
1 Monitor their drinking habits – children who fill up on fluids between meals won’t feel hungry.
2 Check snacking habits. Offer fruit and veg sticks between meals rather than toast or cake, and they’ll feel hungrier at mealtimes.
3 Keep offering new foods.
4 Build on your children’s favourite foods. For example, if they love milk, add a little banana and whiz it up to make a milkshake.
5 Keep calm. Kids learn quickly that they can disrupt mealtimes by refusing to eat or try new foods.
6 Get them involved cooking the meal.
7 Make the plate as colourful as possible: this also invariably means lots of lovely vegetables.
8 Make it a social occasion with everyone sitting down together as a family.