5 a day
We’ve all heard the 5-a-day message. We all know that eating at least five portions of fruit and veg every day can work wonders for the way we look, the way we feel, and for our health in the long term. All fruits and vegetables are super-foods to some extent; the more we eat, the healthier we’ll be.
Many of us still struggle to fit the 5-a-day message into our busy, modern, on-the-go lifestyles. It’s harder still trying to get the kids to replace their favourite crisps and biscuits with apples and peas! Health messages have very little impact on the average 12-year-old, who – as we are all well aware – can happily run around all day on a diet of salty snacks, fizzy drinks and fatty treats.
Still, the fact is that if you can get the kids eating five portions of fruit and veg every day now, then you’re onto a winner – as you’re teaching them healthy habits that can last a lifetime. A diet rich in nutritious foods will make them feel full of beans right away, and help to protect them against a range of illnesses and diseases later in life. So, that all sounds great… but how on earth do we do it?
Take the easy option
Sometimes, the best option is the easiest. You can sometimes give the kids a garden full of fruit and veg without them ever knowing!
So, instead of giving them a ‘boring’ piece of fruit, zap up bananas, strawberries, blueberries, carrots and pretty much anything else in a blender – to make delicious, nutritious smoothies. Instead of trying to force them to eat a portion of ‘yucky’ dry carrots, why not disguise the vegetables in a delicious stew or soup? Or you could use them to make a tasty pasta sauce – as long as you make sure the kids know it’s their favourite chicken stew or beefy bolognese. Emphasise the bits you know they love and they’ll gobble up the veg without even thinking.
And, according to Cancer Research UK, often you can simply go with what the kids like to eat already. If they’re pizza lovers, add more vegetables to the topping. If they live on sandwiches, stick some salad in with the ham, cheese or tuna.
The NHS also recommends putting healthy snacks, such as dried fruit or tangerines, in places where you’d normally store biscuits and cakes. That way, hungry kids in a rush might shovel in a handful of whatever they come across first. If that’s a few sweet dried apricots, they’ll have gobbled up one portion of their 5-a-day in the blink of an eye!
Kids love sweets – I know, we were as surprised as you! But we can use this to our advantage. Choose fruits that are sweet-sized and sweet tasting, like grapes and strawberries. If your kids just won’t eat fruit on its own, mix it into their favourite jelly or chop it into cereal.
And it’s not necessarily all vegetables that kids tend to hate. Some salad and vegetable staples are naturally sweet and can actually be quite popular with them. Think about trying your kids with sweetcorn, peppers, cherry tomatoes and sweet potatoes.
Funnily enough, kids who hate cooked veg often like it raw, especially crunchy, sweet vegetables such as carrots and peppers. They’re a lot more fun than soggy greens – and you know that they haven’t had any of their nutrients cooked away.
Lead by Example
Perhaps the best thing you can do for your kids is to eat plenty of fruit and veg yourself. And not just because you’ll feel healthy enough to take them to the park for a kick-about or a bike ride as a result. Even older kids learn from their parents, so let them see you crunching into an apple or piling your plate with greens at every opportunity.
They’ll never admit to copying you, of course! But you never know – you might find a little mouse has been at the fruit bowl when you weren’t looking. And make sure fruit, vegetables or salad are part of every meal, preferably in several alternatives. Kids love to be given choices – so why not let them choose between good things?!
But don’t force them to eat everything – it might produce negative associations and even lead to a lifetime of salad-dodging. If they’re proving resistant to everything you put in front of them, then next time you’re in the supermarket, let them choose the fruit and veg they want. That way, at least they can’t say they don’t like it.