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.
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How much fruit should my child be eating?
The recommended guidelines for children are two serves of fruit per day. If children are active and play sport, however, I recommend an extra serve of fruit as long as that fruit does not replace other foods in the diet.
One serve of fruit is around half a cup. This equates to roughly: one medium apple, banana, orange or pear; half a cup of berries; two small apricots, kiwis or plums; one homemade smoothie popsicle; one medium-sized melon wedge; one cup of diced or canned fruit (with no added sugar) or one and a half tablespoons of dried or freeze-dried fruit.
Once your child has had their two-three serves of fruit per day, offer veggies as a snack instead. An engaging way to offer this up may include some vibrant fresh veggie sticks with a delicious dip, like a homemade hummus or tzatziki. Including a vegetable based dip will serve to add important protein and boost the overall veggie intake too.
How can I encourage veg intake alongside the fruit?
There are a few different strategies that you can use to include more vegetables into their daily snacks, meals and perhaps even alongside their beloved fruit.
1. Include vegetables in their fruity dishes.
Smoothies are a fantastic way of including vegetables, alongside other nutritious food groups like protein and healthy fats. Adding some beetroot, carrot, a handful of spinach along with the fruit, some coconut milk, yoghurt and chia seeds will boost the nutritional content substantially.
I always encourage children to be involved in the process of creating the smoothies, seeing the contents and realising that all ingredients work together to make the smoothie “delicious”. I feature a range of different nutritious smoothie recipes in my book.
The great part about smoothies is that they are incredibly versatile in terms of flavours and ingredients and any leftovers can also be frozen into popsicle moulds for an icy-pole re-feature on another day.
2. Get cooking with your kids.
Children learn through play and experience and there’s no better way to expand a child’s repertoire than by cooking delicious meals together. Not only is it a fun and engaging experience, it is also an important teaching tool for all ages. For time-poor parents it’s also an excellent way to combine play with the daily routine of meals.
Children also learn to accept new foods through role-modelling, repetition, and exposure and there’s no better way to expose children to a variety of ingredients than by choosing a recipe that you and your child would like to prepare together. Children love to eat what they have helped to make.
Some of our Wholesome Child favourites to make with your little ones include our vibrant Beetroot Buckwheat Pancakes and Fruit Mince pies. Both recipes are packed with nutrition, incorporate both fruit and veggies alongside each other and are an excellent opportunity to cook with your family.
3. Grow your own, or visit a local community garden.
Exposing children to the wondrous concept of earth to table is a great way for them to become engaged in eating more veggies. You don’t have to have a huge plot of land to grow your own veggies, herbs, strawberries or tomatoes – often a windowsill, patio or balcony will be ample space. Involving children every step of the way, from choosing what to grow, to packing the soil, to watering, weeding, and picking will do wonders.
4. Use your imagination and embrace creativity.
Get creative with serving fruit and veggies alongside each other in the form of simple shapes, perhaps even with a storyline or theme. Allow your child to make pictures made from blueberries, carrot sticks, grapes, cucumber slices, slices of strawberry and some celery with a few spinach leaves on a plate.
You could make some vibrant fruit and veggie skewers, allowing your child to create these themselves from a selection of different fruit and vegetables.
Enlist the help of a “reward” chart, where a child feels a sense of achievement when they’ve eaten an agreed “fruit and veg” combination. At the end of the week, once achieved, they could select from a pre-agreed range of fun family activities like a trip to the beach or local park, a new sheet of stickers or even a day out at the zoo.
5. Make salads and veggies readily available.
Keeping some cut up slices of vegetables in the fridge at eye-level serves as a powerful desensitiser and prompt for both children and adults at snack time. What the eyes see, the tummy wants – so removing less desirable snack elements from both the fridge and the pantry will make the choices healthier and easier.
Exposing children to a diverse range of vegetables and allowing them to learn to expect vegetables at snack and meal-time is important. As with everything, persistence and perseverance are key. Including vegetables in the daily lunch box and ensuring that adults model positive healthy eating habits at family meals also go a long way towards making progress.
6. Manage your own expectations and the snack/mealtime environment.
Rather than getting into a power struggle over veggies (commands, orders, threats, punishments, and bribes) try to ensure that the emotional environment at mealtimes is pleasant. Often simply giving your child their veggies and acting as if you don’t mind whether they eat them or not can work well.
Praise your child for trying small amounts of new veggies. Over time, continuing to do this will lead to familiarity with the new vegetables and a greater desire to eat them
Discuss the health benefits of eating vegetables with older children in a fun and engaging way. Avoid lecturing children about the health benefits without speaking about the fact that they are delicious too.
Let your child decide whether you’ll have green beans or broccoli. Simple choices will help them feel a sense of control. Other choices could include: “would you like your sweet potato mashed, baked or cut into chips?”
Resist the urge to force a child to eat when they are genuinely not hungry. Instead, look over the day and work out if they had a big afternoon tea, what they ate at their grandmother’s house in the afternoon or perhaps there was a birthday party at their kindy?
Persistence, perseverance, and patience are all key elements in encouraging more veggies in your child’s diet. It's definitely an ongoing challenge but it's so important and worthwhile for their lifelong health and well-being.
Visit the Wholesome Child website to learn more about Mandy Sacher. Her book Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook, which includes a host of nutritional information and guidance, along with over 140+ allergy-friendly recipes is available for purchase online and through iTunes. Connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook. For more information contact Mandy Sacher.
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