If there’s ever a food battle that most parents don’t have to fight, it’s getting their children to eat enough fruit. Thanks to the sweetness inherent in many fruits, most children are fans. But while fruit is packed full of vitamins and antioxidants, there’s such a thing as eating too much of it, especially if it starts to replace other foods in the diet.
Getting little ones to eat veggies, on the other hand, is often an uphill battle for most families. It’s a daily challenge trying to get little ones to devour their carrots, broccoli, spinach, beets, capsicum, cauliflower and more with the same enthusiasm as a bowl of juicy berries. In fact, less than one per cent of children are eating the recommended number of serves of vegetables on a daily basis.
When it comes to the fruit-vegetable relationship, I’m always keen to emphasise that although I actively encourage vegetables to be added to fruit wherever possible, I discourage baby’s vegetable purees from being “sweetened” with fruit.
The reason for this is because it’s important for both baby and young children’s taste bud development to be exposed to vegetables in their natural taste state, without being “sweetened”. Sweetening vegetables can serve to build an expectation for little ones that veggies (and perhaps other foods) need to be sweet – ultimately creating challenges around future veggie intake and potentially even resulting in fussy eating behaviours developing.
This is especially true when it comes to introducing solids. Babies need to be given the opportunity to experience the natural taste of less sweet vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, before sweetening them with pear or apple puree. We need to teach our babies and young children to enjoy a wide range of flavours and vegetables provide the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Fruit often gets lumped with other high-sugar foods. It is true that fruit contains the intrinsic sugar fructose and that some fruits contain more fructose than others (like mango, banana, lychee, dates, cherries, and grapes) yet many fruits have a low glycaemic index such strawberries, blueberries and kiwi fruit. When it comes to giving children fruit as a snack or dessert, I’m all for it, especially if it’s replacing a refined sugar snack.
While fruit is a great source of carbohydrates, fibre, minerals and vitamins A, B and C, unfortunately it has little protein and virtually no fat, both essential for a growing child. This is why it’s important to not use fruit as a child’s main tummy filler. It’s best to pair fruit with a protein and healthy fat that will keep children satiated for longer. Try apple slices with some nut butter, berries with yoghurt or ricotta cheese or half a banana with a handful of sunflower seeds.