Only 5% of Queensland kids are eating enough vegetables every day, and 71% are eating enough fruit.
Most of us know that fruit and vegetables are really important but getting them into kids’ tummies can be a challenge. Whether it’s picking out spinach or a complete refusal to eat anything fresh, kids can have a reputation for not always liking their veggies.
Parents might also find it hard to get fruit and veggies on the menu when simple pre-prepared or takeaway foods seem easier to buy but don’t pack much of a nutritional punch.
Below are some ways you can try to get more fruit and vegetables into your child’s everyday diet.
Eat the rainbow
Did you know that different coloured fruit and vegetables contain different nutrients? That’s one reason why it’s important to eat a variety of different fruit and veggies each day.
Focusing on colour can be a fun way to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables. Teach your child about the benefits of different coloured fresh foods with colouring in activities, or have them create an ‘eat a rainbow’ colour chart to track what fruit and veggies they’ve eaten each week. You can find more information about getting kids to ‘eat a rainbow’ from this Nutrition Australia fact sheet.
Find out more about what the different colour fruit and vegetables contain, and recipes to cook with them, from our interactive Colour Wheel tool.
One of the benefits of gardening is that it can get children excited about trying the new foods they’ve grown while they learn about seasonality and how their food is produced. Gardening can also be great exercise and can promote mental wellbeing, so it’s a healthy activity all around!
Whether you’ve got a veggie patch and fruit trees that kids can help with or a few pots on the balcony, give gardening a go and see if it encourages your child to eat something new.
If you aren’t able to garden at home, try visiting a community garden nearby or a local farm that’s open to the public, where your child can learn more about how food is grown, possibly pick some fruit or veggies and get excited about eating fresh produce.
Don’t force them to eat things they really don’t like
There are a lot of reasons kids might not want to eat certain foods, from taste, to texture, to experimenting with exerting their control over a situation.
It can be frustrating when your child refuses to eat a food, but forcing a child to eat something they don’t want to eat rarely helps them get over their aversion, and can even make the problem worse.
Instead try these tips for encouraging picky eaters to try new foods, including fruit and veggies:
- Children are often tired at dinnertime and less likely to try new foods. Introduce new foods at other mealtimes.
- Put a communal bowl of salad or cooked vegetables on the table so children can serve themselves with the amount and type of food they want to eat.
- Encourage your child to become familiar with a new food by exploring what it looks, smells and feels like. Let them know they can try it by taking a bite, but they don’t have to swallow it if they don’t want to.
Read more tips about feeding fussy eaters on Raising Children.
Kids in the kitchen
Teaching your children how to cook by letting them help with age-appropriate activities in the kitchen can help them to learn to love different foods and develop healthy eating habits.
Check out these kid friendly recipes that you can make with your little ones.
Give food a disguise
For really picky eaters, some families swear by grating or cutting up vegetables into fine pieces and cooking them into a meal their child likes. Spaghetti Bolognese, for example, can be packed with grated carrot, celery and zucchini that little ones won’t even notice.
It’s also important for children to see the fruit and veggies they are eating – try making them the star of the show. Making food look fun can encourage your child to eat and enjoy it. Try cutting fruit into interesting shapes, or encouraging your child to make a picture or story out of fruits and veggies as they put them on their plate. We have some fun and healthy Pretty Plates to inspire you and help encourage fussy eaters to try new foods.
Make a meal plan
Meal planning can get kids excited about the tasty food coming up during the week, especially if they are allowed to request for a favourite meal to be included. It can also help busy parents and carers plot out what they’ll be cooking, what groceries they need and when to get busy with food prep so they can cook more healthy meals at home, rather than eating out or buying takeaway.
Plot out what meals you’ll make during the week, designate who is cooking what and check that there are enough fruit and vegetables included in each day’s meals. Need some help starting your meal plan? Our meal planning guide has some great tips.
Lead by example
Kids who grow up in households where nutritious foods and drinks are provided and an active lifestyle is the norm, are more likely to make healthy choices for themselves as they get older.
Babies and children literally learn how to live by mimicking what the adults around them do. Show your children that you enjoy reaching for a healthy snack, that being active is a fun daily activity rather than a chore, and that you can reward yourself in healthy ways, rather than always making ‘treat’ food your go-to incentive. Similarly, not using food as a reward or punishment for kids can also help them to develop a healthy relationship with food.
Here are some handy dinnertime tips that will help the whole family develop healthy habits for years to come.
Pay attention during pregnancy
Eating a variety of healthy and nutritious foods during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can impact whether children will like fruits and veggies as they grow up.
You can read more about what you should eat while pregnant and breastfeeding in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
How much fruit and vegetables should my child eat every day?
Depending on their age, children need to be eating between 1½ and 5½ serves of veggies every day, and ½ – 2 serves of fruit.
The Eat for Health website details how many serves of the five food groups children need to eat each day, broken down by age and gender, and also gives examples of serving sizes, including examples of what a serve of fruit or vegetables looks like. View our easy to use, interactive children’s health guidelines tool to view the healthy food groups servings, sleep, fluid, physical activity and screen time recommendations for children of every age.
Why is eating fruit and vegetables so important?
Fruit and vegetables do so many great things for little bodies. They provide a whole host of minerals and vitamins that help the body grow and function properly, like B-carotene for maintaining normal vision, vitamin C for a healthy immune system, and folic acid for healthy growth and development, just to name a few.
They’re also a great source of fibre, which helps keep the bowels regular, and can reduce the risk of heart disease, some cancers and diabetes.
It can be hard to think about our kids battling a disease like heart disease, when it seems like a problem for a much older person. But setting up healthy habits during childhood is a great way to help children grow into healthy adults who continue to live a healthy lifestyle.