Make Five-A-Day More Fun!

We all know that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables can help keep the doctor away, but ensuring your children follow that rule can sometimes feel like a losing battle. MEND, which provides free healthy lifestyle programmes to families, shares its top tips on making sure your kids notch up five-a-day.

Why do kids need five portions of fruit and vegetables a day?
There are several reasons. Firstly, fruit and vegetables are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium and folate. These vitamins and minerals help children to grow healthily and prevent illnesses, colds and sniffles, while helping to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers such as bowel cancer. Fruit and veg are also rich in dietary fibre, which works to maintain a healthy gut and makes people feel fuller for longer.

Another bonus is that fruit and vegetables are low in fat and relatively low in sugar, so are a useful tool to help maintain a healthy weight.

What counts as a fruit or vegetable?
Fruit and vegetables don’t need to be fresh to count towards your family’s five-a-day. You can also choose tinned fruit and vegetables (make sure the label says ‘No added sugar or salt’); baked beans; other pulses, like chickpeas; dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, or frozen fruit and vegetables. Fruit juice and smoothies count too. However, potatoes don’t, and therefore neither do chips. Potatoes are classed as a starchy food because when eaten as part of a meal, they are usually used in place of other starches such as bread, rice or pasta.

What is a portion size for kids?
For young children, aged four or five, a portion of fruit or veg is as much as they can fit in the palm of their hand. For older children and adults, a medium apple, orange, pear, nectarine, peach or banana would make up one portion. A portion also equals three heaped tablespoons of frozen or tinned vegetables, such as peas, or three heaped tablespoons of baked beans. Other options include a large slice of pineapple; seven strawberries; three apricots; two broccoli spears; one tomato or one tablespoon of raisins.

A 150ml serving of 100 per cent fruit juice equals one portion, while a smoothie may count as up to two portions if it contains at least two different types of fruit or vegetables – for example, 80g of whole fruit or veg plus 150ml of a different variety of juice. But watch out – however much your child likes smoothies, this drink can only ever count as a maximum of two portions.

Try to mix it up
For children to get the most benefit from fruit and vegetables, it’s best they eat a variety of different types and colours. This is because different fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of fibre, vitamins and minerals. For example, it is better for your child to have a glass of fruit juice, an apple, a tomato, some peas and sweetcorn, than five apples.

Deal with fussy eaters
It may be a good idea to get your children comfortable eating sweeter-tasting vegetables, such as carrots, peas and sweetcorn, before introducing ‘stronger’ tasting ones such as green pepper, spinach and radishes.

But do encourage your child to try new tastes, and get the whole family involved. Remember that children copy what they see. Give your kids plenty of praise when they try something unfamiliar or that they’re not sure about, but don’t worry if they don’t like it the first, second or even third time – many children go through a phase of being reluctant to try new foods.
Psychologists call this ‘neophobia’ and it’s quite normal. Foods that kids refuse during this phase can often be fruits and vegetables, with some bitter vegetables such as radishes and green pepper being really unpopular.

Psychologists have developed a technique called ‘food exposure’ that can help. This simply means getting your child to try a new food on a number of occasions over a period of time  – research shows that those children who taste a food 10 to 15 times are less likely to go on to refuse it, and will eat more when it is given to them. This is because they’ve had time to get used to the new flavour. Trying a new food only two or three times doesn’t give your child enough time to accept the new taste. Another tactic is to get children interested in preparing and eating fruit and vegetables, by making fruit kebabs or smoothies together. At lunchtime, place a selection of vegetables and salads, bread and fillings on the table and ask everyone to make their own sandwich – using at least one vegetable.

However, don’t conceal fruit or vegetables. If children are going to get used to eating that food, they need to know what it looks like!

For more information on MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition… Do it!) visit IIf your child is above a healthy weight, ask about MEND’s free healthy living programme in your area. These courses are designed to help children lose weight, build fitness, gain confidence and learn how to make healthier choices while having fun. You can also call 0800 230 0263 for more information.

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