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ost of us know that eating fruits and vegetables is important for good health.  Unfortunately, most of us, including children, are not consuming enough of these nutrient-rich foods. An estimated eight out of every 10 children are not getting the amounts of fruits and vegetables recommended each day.

As many as one-third of the vegetables that children are eating are potatoes, according to Dr. Jenna Anding, a nutrition specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

The lack of a variety of fruits and vegetables in the diets of children is a concern to nutrition and health professionals because these future adults may be missing out on important vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Phytochemicals are unique compounds found only in plant foods. Emerging research suggests that many phytochemicals can promote health and may even prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain forms of cancer.

Most parents will say that getting children to eat more fruits and vegetables isn’t an easy task. There are many factors that influence the types and amounts of fruits and vegetables that children eat.

According to research, having fruits and vegetables available in the home and in forms that children can readily eat influences the extent to which those fruits and vegetables are eaten. Neophobia, the fear of new foods, and personal preference can also play a role in children’s eating habits. 

A parent/caregiver may have to expose a new fruit or vegetable to a child as many as 10 times before they accept it. And, after 10 tries, they still may not accept it.

So, what can a parent/caregiver do to help their children eat more fruits and vegetables?  First, the entire family needs to commit to the goal of eating fruits and vegetables each day. Depending on energy needs, children need about four cups of fruits and vegetables, adults need five cups each day.

Children aren’t the only ones who aren’t getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. As parents, we can’t expect our children to eat fruits and vegetables if we don’t eat them ourselves.

Other tips to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption include:

 

• Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the countertop for quick snacks.

•While preparing dinner, snack on crunchy vegetables and low-fat dip.

•Add fruits and vegetables to favorite foods. Examples include carrot “coins” in chicken soup, sliced peaches on top of breakfast cereal, and mashed bananas or grated zucchini in bread.

• Let children take a role in the fruits and vegetables that are served at mealtime. When possible, let them help plan meals and prepare fruits and vegetables.

• For young children, make eating fruits and vegetables fun. Each day, eat fruits and vegetables that begin with a letter of the alphabet. For example, on one day feature the letter “C” and offer cantaloupe, carrots, cabbage, and cauliflower.

Don’t be surprised if children refuse new vegetables the first time they are offered. Research suggests that forcing or bribing a child to eat vegetables probably doesn’t work in the long run.

Parents need to keep their “cool” when their child refuses to eat a new food: just remember the rule of 10 and offer the new food to the child the next time it is prepared. Studies show that repeated exposure is a good way of getting children to try a new food.

Getting children to eat more fruits and vegetables can be a challenge, but the rewards are great: the foods children eat today may very well affect the foods they eat tomorrow as well as their health in years to come.

Rita Hodges is the County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences, 701 South I-35 E Waxahachie. Contact her at 972-825-5175 or rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu.  Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin. The Texas A & M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.