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Do your kids eat enough fruit and veg?

Little girl playing with veg

A recent study (a secondary analysis of the 1999 National Food Consumption Survey) shows that South African children across the board (even wealthy kids) are not getting enough of these power foods!

So why is this a concern? Well, the facts from well conducted studies are that the more fruit and veg you eat, the lower your risk of developing cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, oesophagus, stomach, colon, pancreas, lung and uterine lining. There is also good evidence to prove that increasing your intake of fruit and veggies reverses trends toward hypertension, diabetes and obesity. It has also shown to reduce medical bills significantly (now that’s something I am interested in!).

In children there is more and more proof that a good diet, full of colour, protects against childhood illness including the usual coughs and colds. What really hits home for me is that children with poor dietary intake have a higher chance of becoming obese as adults and are more sensitive to the negative health effects of the ‘ affluent lifestyle’ as adults. So there is enough backing to say that you are doing the best for your kids by putting that veg on the plate.

It’s important to note that giving your kids supplements does not make up for the deficits in our diets. These positive effects cannot be attributed to any one nutrient but rather to the synergy between phytochemicals and non-nutritive compounds found in food - things we just can’t put in a bottle.

Now nobody wants dinner time warfare in their house, so there have to be better ways to get the good stuff down. There are two aspects to it, one is sneaking it in, but ultimately you want your kids to develop good habits and taste preferences, so the other important aspect is behavioural.

Tasty ideas to tempt the taste buds

  • Make veggies tasty. Kids can afford some extra calories, so you can use a bit of melted butter or sauté with garlic and butter. Cheese or bacon are also tasty additions to veg dishes.
  • Puree mixed veggies and put them into ice cubes which you can freeze. Use these blocks of veggies to mix into pasta sauces (especially Bolognese) or casseroles, or to use a spreads on toast or pita.
  • Puree fruit and freeze it in ice trays, put cocktail sticks in them and voila, you have delicious ice lollies!
  • Offer fruit. Include it as part of the main meal or as a dessert.
  • Make breakfast count. Try adding dried cranberries, cut up apple, peaches, banana or strawberries to oats or all bran.
  • Make fruit smoothies, freeze them and send them to school in the lunch box.
  • Mix bitter veggies with sweeter ones, like sweet potatoes and broccoli.
  • Try innovative taste combinations, like avocado and banana or apples and peanut butter.
  • It’s important to make the veggies look inviting, so don’t overcook them, steam for a short while so they keep their colour; the plate is always more attractive and more nutritious the more colour you put on it. Try cutting veggies into cute shapes or making little veggie characters.
  • Keep the fruit bowl at eye level in your house so the little ones can see it.
  • Offer fresh veggie snacks, like carrot sticks, cucumber sticks or cocktail tomatoes. Offer them with a dip like humus, tzatziki or even mayonnaise.

Tips to encourage good eating habits:

  • Encourage a “one taste” rule. If they don’t want more leave it. In the future keep offering it, even if they don’t like the veggie. Keep putting a little bit of it on the plate so they get used to it being part of the meal. Children need to taste some foods about 10-14 times before they accept it, so keep at it!
  • Plan your meals and have frozen veg on hand for days when you just haven’t had time to cook.
  • Include your children in preparing the food, this way they will want to taste their creations!
  • Take your children shopping for veggies at fun places like farmers markets.

Aim to give your 1-3 year-old at least 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of veg daily, 4-8 year-olds should get 1 ½ cups of each.

Lastly, the most significant way to affect your child’s eating habits is to be a good role model, so you need to “eat your greens” too!

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