A child’s diet in their early years can affect their health for many years to come. Poor nutrition during childhood can lead to all sorts of problems later in life, such as an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. General eating habits are formed in the first few years of life so it is very important that we encourage children to eat healthily.
A varied diet is associated with better health, as it is more likely to contain all the nutrients the body needs. They should eat foods from each of the four main food groups every day- which are:
- Bread, other cereals and potatoes
- Fruit and vegetables
- Milk and dairy foods
- Meat, fish and alternatives such as pulses (peas, beans and lentils), eggs, vegetable proteins and soya.
Fruit and veg contain vitamins and minerals and also contain fibre, which can help prevent constipation. Children should eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day. Very young children may only be able to manage small amounts, but those over 2 years of age should be offered child-sized portions with all meals and with some snacks. As a rough guide, one portion is the amount they can fit in the palm of their hand. A child size portion is roughly half of an adult size portion (so approximately 40g).
Examples of a child size portion are listed below (for more, see fig.1):
- 2-3cm piece of cucumber in sticks
- 1 small celery stick cut into pieces
- 4 cherry tomatoes or 4 small tomato quarters
- 1 ring of red, yellow or green pepper
Getting your child to eat enough fruit and veg may be difficult, but it is definitely achievable. Here are some tips to get your child eating more fruit & veg!
Make it child-friendly
- Make fruit & veg easy to eat by cutting them into sticks or chunks. Remember to try steaming veg so they don’t go soggy.
- Freezing fruit can be delicious. Frozen grapes make a great snack and ice lollies made from a homemade smoothie mix, make a great dessert (remember to only give dessert at mealtimes to prevent tooth decay).
- Make access to fruit & veg as easy as possible for your kids, so they can eat them as snacks. Why not stick a bowl of cucumber, carrot or grapes etc. on the table to readily eat?
Make it fun
- Get your kid’s involved in what they eat to make it more fun for them. Let them be part of the cooking process. For example, you can let them choose vegetable toppings for a homemade pizza or choose the fruit & veg for a homemade smoothie. Similarly, get your kid’s involved in growing fruit & veg. For example, you can grow tumbling tomatoes in a tub on the patio.
- Make the food more appealing-it’s surprising what they’ll eat when it’s made to look like something else!
Planning & Preparation
- Spread the five portions throughout the day. Include a portion of fruit with breakfast cereal, to get the first one in early, and include fruit as a mid-morning snack.
- Keep fruit & veg like carrots, celery and cucumber, washed and cut into pieces in a box in the fridge – ideal for a quick snack.
- Plan your meals ahead. You can make quick meals like stir-fries & omelettes or start a casserole in the morning so it’s ready by evening. Also, try making soup from leftover vegetables.
- Buy frozen, canned & tinned alternatives other than fresh fruit & vegetables, to save time on preparation when cooking & also help to increase variety.
- Look for the five a day logo link.
Think about your words & deeds
- Eating fruit and veg is not a punishment. Don’t force your kids to eat fruit and veg and avoid saying “no dessert until you’ve eaten your veg”. This is because fruit and veg may be seen as a punishment and also give your kids the idea that pudding is more desirable than vegetables.
- Healthy eating in your household. Try to make the effort to sit down to eat with your kids as this may help them to eat better & finish all their veg when you’re there; especially if you’re eating your veg¹. Also, eating a home cooked meal at the table more than 6 days a week and having less takeaways is linked to increased fruit and vegetable intake in children².
Keep it varied
- Don’t give up! There are countless varieties of vegetables to choose from and your child may not like what you give them the first time but they may with repeated exposure. There is evidence that children aged 2-6 years who are exposed to repeated tasting of vegetables over 14 days will increasingly accept and enjoy them³.
- Sometimes it just has to be done!
- Add carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions or mushrooms into sauce mixtures. Before you serve it up, blend it to hide the evidence. Gradually over weeks try chopping the mixture more coarsely. For example, make a pureed veg sauce served with pasta rice or baked potatoes.
- Disguise vegetables in soups, grate them into casseroles or stews, or mash root vegetables into potato.
Recipes to try
Check out the recipes on the blog for more ideas.