Ways to increase fruit and vegetable intake
Increasing children's fruit and vegetable intake is a common problem reported by many parents. The Government recommends that all children eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, However, recent research suggests that only 1 in 5 children achieves this, and many pre-schoolers often have days where they eat no fruit or vegetables at all.
Fruit and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy balanced diet and are important for providing protection against disease. See the Unhealthy Food Preferences pitfalls section.
It is important to increase a child's familiarity with fruits and vegetables. This can be done at mealtimes, but also in a variety of different ways where consumption of the food is not the goal.
- Find pictures of fruits and vegetables that children can colour in, cut out and stick, or draw.
- Use playdoh to make your own fruits and vegetables.
- Use real fruits and vegetables in role play e.g., at the shops, Teddy Bear's Picnic, and so on.
- Try using real fruits and vegetables in messy play too e.g., you can use potato shapes or dried peas when painting to create different effects.
- Grow your own! You don’t need an allotment, expensive equipment, or even a garden. Many foods can be grown indoors in pots or on your windowsill.
- Buy a packet of seeds just for your child and give them ownership over the project. They will love to eat food that they have grown themselves.
- Read books that have images of fruits and vegetables in them, or that have a food-related theme and talk about this.
- Go to your local market so that your children can see all the different fruits and vegetables. Make a game of it. For example - who can spot three red foods?
- Allow your child to help pick out the food. Teach them about things like feeling for ripeness, as this will increase their physical contact with the food.
- There are now many computer games and mobile phone apps that teach children about healthy eating and introduce them to the idea of nutrients. This can be a fun way to learn.
- Introduce a learning challenge with your child. See who can find out the most about a particular food. You could choose a new food each week.
- Involve your child in food preparation so they get used to seeing and handling foods in their different states (raw, cooked).
- Offer fruits and vegetables in these different states – e.g., raw, boiled, steamed, oven-cooked. You might find that while your child doesn’t like boiled carrots, they do like them raw. Steamed vegetables often retain their natural sweetness better.
- The sense of pride and achievement from having prepared a food can encourage children to try their creation.
- Continue to offer the foods at meal and snack times. Don’t stop buying and serving fruits and vegetables just because they are not liked immediately. See the Tools section for our Exposure Monitor tool that can help you keep track of when and how a food is offered.
- Offer the same food in different ways. For example, raw carrot is fun not only as sticks (great for dipping) but also grated.
- Be a good role model. Seeing you eating and enjoying a food can lessen the extent to which a child is wary of it.
- Make it fun. Try chopping fruit and vegetables into faces or shapes, use them to make your own juices or healthy lollies.
- Point out and talk about fruits and vegetables as often as possible. The aim is to make these a familiar part of everyday life – not a dreaded moment at the table!