As a dietitian and a mom of three young children, I naturally have a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. You may think that this has always been the case. The truth is that it wasn't. The practice of having fresh fruit sitting out didn't occur to me until I had a friend from out of town visit me. This was during the time when I only had one young child and was studying nutrition. The light bulb went off. I realized fruit wasn't a big part of our diet. I concentrated on vegetables and whole grains because ironically, I am allergic to many fruits.
Of course placing a bowl of apples, pears, and bananas in a colorful bowl from Crate and Barrel isn't enough. True to what I have learned about children's eating habits, slicing fruit and placing it at an easy-to-reach location right after school does the trick. Serving dips like ranch dressing or peanut butter with carrots for dinner also works. This holds true for adults too. Imagine being served fresh slices of peaches and plums right before the end of dinner. Sounds yummy doesn't it? That's right, you'll actually eat it vs. just staring at a lonely whole peach sitting in front of you. Please, try this experiment at home!
Lonely fruit and vegetables seems to be a national phenomenon. According to the USDA, fewer than 15 percent of elementary students eat the recommended 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Furthermore, average fruit and vegetable intake among 6-11 year olds is only 3.5 servings a day.
Does low fruit and vegetable intake really matter when children are young? Chronic illness such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer are usually concerns for adults. However, life-long positive eating habits (such as eating low fat foods, consuming foods with high fiber, eating less processed foods) are habit-forming when started young. Furthermore, certain diseases such as diabetes and high cholesterol are starting to appear in children who are overweight. Finally, fruits and vegetables have so many naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber that are good for your health.
Are our busy lifestyles to blame? Certainly, if you have kids you are getting in the car to go somewhere (to a restaurant, to soccer practice, etc.). Packaged food such as chips or power bars are very convenient and there is something about opening up a package that seems so easy compared to slicing up that lonely piece of fruit. It really is just a mindset though. Once you start packing up the fruits and veggies in Tupperware containers you will get in the habit. Plus, fruits and veggies are low in calories and fill you up.
We are constantly bombarded with food advertisements and not necessarily for healthy food such as fruits and vegetables. In fact, children 2 to 11 years old are exposed to an average of 150 to 200 hours of commercial messages, or 20,000 commercials a year and the majority of these advertisement are for cereals, candies, or other sweets.
So, what is a parent to do? Role modeling is my motto. If you are eating your fruits and vegetables, your children will too. In 2002, researchers at Pennsylvania State University examined parental pressure ("finish your vegetables" or "do as I say") vs. role modeling ("do as I do") among 191 five year old girls. The results showed that a daughter's fruit and vegetable intake was positively related to their parent's reported fruit and vegetable intake.
So what can you do this week?
Get your kids involved:
Have them choose the veggies and fruit they want when you are at the store.
Let the kids create a fruit kebob for a snack. Lay out the different fruit in an assembly line. Try pineapple, grapes, sliced strawberries, and more.
Create a rainbow chart with different colors representing the different fruit. When you eat blueberries, mark this down in the blue section.
Plan to go to the farmers market this weekend.
Have your kids create a fruit salad; this is great for building motor skills in young children (remember to slice grapes in half as they can be a choking hazard for young kids).
Keep a chart and see how easy it is to get fruit and veggies into your diet. Here are examples of one serving of fruit or veggie: a small banana, 6 strawberries, 1/4 cup of raisins, 1/2 cup of mini carrots or broccoli.
Grow your own fruit and veggies. Go to your local nursery and purchase seeds. If you have a small back yard, just use pots. Home grown veggies really taste great.
Buy one less packaged item (crackers) and replace it with kiwis or some sugar snap peas.
Add sliced bananas on top of pancakes.
Try making fresh applesauce (link to recipe?)
Limit packaged fruit (Jell-O and fruit) or canned fruit with syrup.
Plan the night before. If you are off to the zoo tomorrow, get the lunch boxes out, wash the grapes and mini carrots.
When your kids get home from school, have the sliced fruit on the table and eat this snack together.
Limit fruit juice as many brands have added sugar. Although 100% with added vitamin C seems like a good choice, real fruit is still a better choice (real fruit contains fiber, vitamins and minerals).
Try something new: grilled asparagus with prosciutto.
Try taste testing events with different veggies and dips and different varieties of fruit.
This family wellness article is provided by Nourish Interactive, visitwww.nourishinteractive.com for nutrition articles, family wellness tips, free children's healthy games, and tools. Available in English and Spanish.
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