Authored by Emily Cooke, RDN, LD and Let’s Go! Early Childhood Program Manager
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids between 2 and 18 years old are consuming more servings of whole fruit (fresh, frozen, canned or dried) each day than they were in 2003, and they are consuming less fruit juice. From 2003 to 2010 whole fruit actually replaced fruit juice as the main contributor of fruit to children’s diets. This is really good news! Why? Well, while fruit juice does provide many of the vitamins and minerals found in whole fruits, it also serves quite a load of sugar! In some cases juice has as much sugar as soda. Whole fruits provide the same vitamins and minerals but they are packaged with fiber – a type of indigestible carbohydrate that helps us feel full and supports digestive health.
Kids eating more whole fruit and drinking less juice is great progress on the nutrition front. As far as vegetables go though, the CDC found that kids are NOT eating more of those. Between 2007 and 2010, 9 out of 10 children were not eating enough vegetables; so there’s plenty of work to still be done around the “veggie ask” in Let’s Go!’s 5-2-1-0 message of 5 or more fruits and veggies a day.
If you have children in your life, you have an opportunity to help turn the tides on this issue. Adults help shape children’s lifelong food preferences and habits through what they serve, how they serve it, and what they choose to eat and drink personally. Help the children in your life learn to love fruits and veggies by implementing some of these tips:
- Offer a fruit and/or a vegetable and other healthy foods at ALL meals and snacks. Make unhealthy food the exception rather than the rule. www.ChooseMyPlate.gov is a great place to start learning how to plan for and prepare healthy meals.
- Offer foods over and over and over again…up to 15, 20 or even more times! Some children need A LOT of exposures to a food before they are willing to give it a try. Don’t give up!
- Introduce new foods to children through informal taste tests. Let them explore a very small portion of a food using any or all the senses; never force children to taste a food. They can look, touch, smell and/or taste a food, whatever they are comfortable with.
- Most importantly, choose more fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods yourself. While children may not always heed what we say, usually they are keeping a close eye on what we do, including when it comes to food and beverage choices.