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Children and Vegetables

March 23, 2000


Want your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? Make them kid-friendly, fast and easy, say behavioral nutritionists at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "Much of our team's work involves understanding the factors that keep kids from eating more fruits and vegetables and learning how to best overcome those barriers," said Janice Baranowski, a registered dietitian, assistant professor of pediatrics and an investigator with the CNRC's behavioral nutrition team.

According to Baranowski, the team has identified three main barriers to kids eating more fruits and vegetables: availability, accessibility, and preference.

If fruits and vegetables aren't in the house, kids can't eat them. The solution? Make them easily available. Keep the kitchen stocked with 100% juice and canned, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and include them in your menu planning.
On-the-go kids won't remember fruit and vegetables stored in the crisper or take time out for washing and peeling. So the next step is accessibility! Make ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables an obvious choice for grab-and-go snacks. Stock refrigerator shelves with easy-to-reach 100% juice boxes and ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, along with a favorite low-fat dip.

Kids like the sweet taste of fruit, but getting them to eat vegetables can be a struggle. The last step is preference. Don't give up. Kids can learn to like vegetables-it's simply a matter of taste and experience. Remember that some kids need to taste a new food up to fourteen times before they accept it. Allow kids to help decide which fruit or vegetable will be eaten at each meal or snack period. Involve kids in recipe selection, produce shopping and preparation of mealtime fruit and vegetable dishes. "We find that kids usually eat the dishes that they help select and prepare, and that parents, sometimes out of sheer love, will eat them, too," Baranowski said. "The key to overcoming healthy eating barriers is to keep nutritious choices like fruits and vegetables so visible, so easy and so appealing that kids hardly notice they're eating healthier," she said.

Make the "5 a Day" concept more manageable by encouraging kids to set a goal of one serving of fruit, juice or vegetable at each meal and two servings for snacks.

Keep in mind a reasonable serving size as well. A good rule-of-thumb for fruit and vegetable serving sizes is "one tablespoon per year of life" for kids 1 to 6 years of age.

For older kids and adults, serving sized based on the Food Guide Pyramid are: 3/4 cup juice, 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, or 1/2 cup chopped raw, canned or cooked fruit or other vegetable.

The "5 a Day" recommendation includes at least one vitamin A-rich and vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable serving each day. Vitamin A is found in apricots, payaya, mangos and cantaloup, as well as green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. High vitamin C foods include citrus fruit, cantaloupe, papaya, mangos, peaches, kiwi, strawberries, bell pepper, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and potatoes with skin.



Cathi Lamp, UC Tulare County Nutrition, Family & Consumer Science Advisor