Fruits and vegetables. One of the cheapest food groups, most essential food groups and yet, the food group that many children eat the least. It is estimated that on average, less than 1 in 3 children do not eat their daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Depending on which website you are reviewing, children should eat at least 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies everyday. According to the Canada Food Guide, children between the ages of 2 to 13 years should eat at least 4-6 servings per day. Yet sadly, most do not.
I’ve had many conversations with parents from all walks of life about this topic. Many great conversations have come from the students in my First Aid courses while others have come from friends, family and coworkers.
The most common excuse that people tend to use for not feeding them to their children is because of fussy eating. It’s surprising how often I hear people say “well I buy it but my children don’t like it and won’t eat it”. I think this comment has peaked my interest primarily because as a very fussy eater myself, my mom still managed to get fruits and vegetables in my daily diet when I was a kid. In fact, to this day, I’m still very fussy.
Throughout my adult life, whenever I’ve had conversations about eating habits with other adults, if I mention that I’m a fussy eater, more often than not, the response is usually “oh you’re not fussier than me…….”.
Bottom line, many people are fussy eaters and many children don’t want to eat their fruits and vegetables. Children of today are really not that different than the children of yesterday when it comes to fussy eating habits. Yet, growing up, we ( my siblings and I) always had fruits and vegetables that we had to eat. My friends and family and their friends and family ate fruits and vegetables daily. Our parents grew up eating fruits and vegetables. It was just part of our daily meals. My son eats fruits and vegetables every day. For me, it’s a mandatory part of his diet as well.
Rather than writing about how I get my son to eat fruits and veggies every day, I wanted to ask other parents young and old about this topic and get their input. After all, everyone has different beliefs, values and approaches and I wanted to hear what other people had to say about this. Also, some kids are much more fussier than others and this can pose some real challenges for parents of these children. I wanted to hear if and how parents of yesterday and today fed their children fruits and vegetables daily. So I asked many parents. Some with young children, some with adult children, some with grandchildren. I asked parents of all ages from all walks of life.
For some parents, it was all they had so their children either ate the fruits and veggies or they went hungry. There was no alternative to choose from. There wasn’t as much variety as there is now was another explanation. There wasn’t the crackers or rollups and granola bars or fruit cups that fill our store aisles today.
Others told me that they fought with their children everyday but would make sure, regardless of the battle, that their children had veggies in every meal. They used the 2 tablespoon rule: eat just 2 tablespoons. Or, “just try it”, other parents said. Hiding the veggies in meals or masquerading them was another tip. My grandma used to mash cauliflower in with mashed potatoes and serve it to my mom and uncles when they were kids.
Another common tip was finding out what the child did like and build on that. Being creative when it came to cooking, blending or chopping veggies into tiny bits and adding them to other foods were other suggestions that parents gave.
For others, the children were not given the choice of “if you don’t want veggies, I’ll give you a granola bar instead……..”, the choice was “either this fruit or that fruit, this vegetable or that vegetable”. One of my former coworkers told me that she would make a veggie platter with 4 or 5 different types of veggies cut up, put a little bowl of low fat dip in the middle and put the platter in front of her children for a snack. She never asked them what they wanted, she just made the veggie platter and put it in front of them. Her kids ate it.
Another coworker told me that when he was growing up, a friend’s brother was a very fussy eater. This boy would only eat one food type a month. One month it was creamed corn and only creamed corn. The next it was canned peas and only canned peas. His parents struggled to get this boy to eat any type of food.
Some parents make smoothies. There are a lot of great recipes for making smoothies found all over the internet. For those who don’t like smoothies, home made juice is a great way to get the daily servings in.
I have definitely had many great conversations with parents about this topic. There have been many struggles and many creative attempts to get their children to eat their fruits and vegetables. But the one common theme I noticed in my conversations with the parents who did manage to feed their kids fruits and vegetables everyday, was the mindset and beliefs those parents held. Those whose children ate fruits and vegetables regularly, believed that it was a necessary part of your daily diet. There were no if, ands or buts. There was no swaying from this belief. It was part of your meal plan, period. The way these parents looked at food intake and meal preparation gave them the strength and determination to face every challenge to get their children to eat healthy.
Children from all generations are fussy. Some more, some less. They always have been, they always will be. But we cannot use that as an excuse to eliminate this essential food group from their diet. There are many great ways to get the daily servings in a fussy eaters diet, but it takes persistence, creativity and talking to other parents.
Aside from being the cheapest food group with plentiful variety and selection, it is one of the most important food groups. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals as well as natural antioxidants that are essential for the development and healthy maintenance of every cell and every organ in our bodies. Vitamins and minerals help our bodies fight infection and promote wound healing. The natural antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables help repair cellular damage. Antioxidants along with the high amounts of vitamins and minerals naturally found in fruits and vegetables are are important in helping our bodies fight many diseases such as heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, kidney stones, bone loss, some cancers, Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, , and Alzheimer’s to name a few.
Fruits and vegetables are a natural source of fiber which is needed for an optimal, healthy digestive system. Most fruits and vegetables are very low in calories and contain no fats or cholesterol.
They are predominantly water based which our bodies need and are alkaline, helping our bodies balance our pH levels. When we don’t balance out our pH levels, our bodies become very acidic. This can result in the development of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Poor pH levels can also result in the development of arthritis, acid reflux, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue.
When we don’t eat fruits and vegetables everyday, our bodies cannot develop properly or healthy. Without our daily servings of fruit and vegetables, our bodies become deficient in many essential vitamins and mineral. Signs of malnourishment can include forgetfulness, inability of focus or concentrate, low energy or hyperactivity, poor vision, skin conditions, asthma, allergies, stomach cramps and constipation.
Bottom line,we need to eat fruits and vegetables everyday in order to develop and maintain good health. Many degenerative diseases start in childhood. In order for our children to grow to be healthy adults, they need to eat healthy when they are growing up. Our children need to eat a minimum of 4-6 servings per day in order to develop healthy bodies. While some children can be fussy and create challenges for parents, it is not impossible as parents from other generations have shown. What is important is our thinking about the importance of this essential food group in our diet. Making fruits and vegetables a priority in our diet is the first step in successfully including them as part of our daily meals for ourselves and our children.
In Part 2 of this topic, I will discuss in more depth, creative and inexpensive ways to add fruits and vegetables to your children’s meals.