By Amy Parker, Keene State College Dietetic Intern
“Eat more fruits and vegetables.” You’ve heard it a million times — but what is the impact that change could have in children? Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The long-term health effects are detrimental; research shows a correlation between being obese as a child and increased risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help protect our health and keep our immune system strong, helping to prevent many of these ailments.
Now that school is starting up, here are some simple tips to help increase your child’s intake of fruits and vegetables and to give them a health boost:
- Add fruits and vegetables into ANY meal. Fruit doesn’t have to just be a snack, and vegetables don’t have to be served only at dinner. Add vegetables into an egg scramble for breakfast, a sandwich or soup for lunch, or as the foundation of a stir-fry dinner. If whole fruit is something that your child doesn’t normally choose as a snack, you can make your own fruit salad at the beginning of the week and pack it in small cups to serve as a side during lunch or dinner.
- All forms matter. We usually think of fresh fruits and vegetables being the only kind we should buy. However, frozen fruits and vegetables contain the same nutritional value and you don’t have to worry about them going bad before you use them. Canned is another great option that you won’t have to worry about wasting. When choosing canned fruit, opt for ones that are stored in water or 100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar. Choose canned veggies that with“low-sodium” on the label. You can also rinse them to further decrease the sodium content. Lastly, dried fruits can be a simple and nutritious addition to dress up cereals or salads — or to enjoy as a simple snack.
- Set an example. Studies show that children are influenced by their parents’ and siblings’ eating choices. By including more fruits and vegetables into your diet, you will be modeling healthy eating behaviors which support the development of healthy habits in your children. Plus you’ll both receive the amazing health benefits!
- Pair Your Flavors. Research shows that children are more likely to develop a taste for veggies when they are offered with foods they know and like. For example, try pairing broccoli with a tasty low-fat dip or serve spinach in eggs or smoothies.
- Don’t Give Up! On average, it takes a child about 7-10 food introductions before he/she acquires the taste for it. Have them help you cook and grocery shop and even try planting some of your own fruits or vegetables together. Avoid negative talk and instead, encourage them just to take a bite or to try it in a different way. There is no better feeling than seeing your child live a healthy and happy life. Keep working at it — your efforts will pay off!