Many kids love fruit and eat it routinely. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most young children aged 2-3 years eat fruit routinely as part of their day.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for children over the age of 4 or for the vegetable food group. Researchers have found that very few Americans over the age of 4—including adults—eat the recommended amount of vegetables (two servings of fruit and 2.5 servings of vegetables per day). Similarly, fruit consumption tapers off as children get older.
Eating fruits and vegetables every day has many health benefits. They contain important nutrients like folic acid, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are also linked to preventing heart disease and certain types of cancer.
There is no secret or single strategy that will work all the time when it comes to getting your child to eat vegetables. The truth is, you need to have several strategies up your sleeve, and you must be willing to use different strategies at any given meal. Rotating your strategies will keep the enjoyment and fun around eating fruit and veggies high, not to mention keep life a little unpredictable (and your child on his toes).
Here are 9 strategies for encouraging fruit and veggie eating, while keeping it fun and interesting:
1. Use different forms of fruit and vegetables. Try frozen, freeze-dried, canned, fresh, dried varieties, 100 percent juices, and nectars. But watch out for too much juice—keep it to 4-6 ounces of 100 percent juice daily.
2. Presentation is key. Bag fruits and vegetables in individual plastic bags. Skewer fruit or veggies and cheese and make a kabob. Slice, dice, shred, sauce (e.g., applesauce), or freeze them whole or in small chunks (e.g., frozen grapes). Take care to make chunks small to minimize choking.
3. Do the hard work. Peel bananas and oranges; clean and slice berries; peel and cut carrots or cucumbers. Make fruit and vegetables easy to access and they will more likely be eaten.
4. Make fruit and veggies the centerpiece. Place fruit or sliced veggies on the counter, store them in the front of the fridge, and always serve them as part of dinner.
5. Eat fruits and vegetables yourself. Eat fruit and vegetables at your family meal table; make sure to show your enjoyment when eating them.
6. Share the shopping experience. Invite your child along for the ride to the grocery store or farm stand, and let him pick out a fruit and a vegetable for the week.
7. Cook and prep together. Young children can wash fruit and vegetables and do small tasks like tearing lettuce, peeling citrus fruit, or snapping peas.
8. Use arts and crafts to pique interest. Make a picture out of fruit and veggies.
9. Play games. Match fruit and vegetables with the colors of the rainbow; “taste test” before mealtime; or play restaurant, and serve a salad or a platter of mixed fruit and vegetables before mealtime.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
- There are many health benefits to eating fruits and vegetables.
- Most children are not meeting their requirements for eating fruits and vegetables.
- Using a range of strategies to increase your child’s fruit and vegetable consumption can help him meet his requirements.