Kids still not eating enough produce

179322257How many fruits and vegetables should children eat every day? 

Actually, the recommendations for fruits and vegetables vary widely. They depend on children’s daily calorie needs, which relate to their age and activity level. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises that:

  • Children ages 2 to 5 should eat 1 to 1.5 cups of fruit and 1 to 2 cups of vegetables a day.
  • Children ages 6 to 11 should eat 1 to 2 cups of fruit and 1.5 to 3 cups of vegetables a day.
  • Children and teens ages 12 to 19 should eat 1.5 to 2.5 cups of fruit and 2 to 4 cups of vegetables a day.

For details on these recommendations, including amounts of specific types of vegetables and methods to prepare fruits and vegetables, see appendices 6 and 7 in the Dietary Guidelines, online as a PDF

As you might suspect, most kids don’t eat enough produce. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that while children have increased their overall fruit intake since 2003, most — 6 in 10 — are still not eating enough fruit. What’s worse, 9 in 10 kids don’t meet the recommendations for vegetable consumption.

One promising sign: The message to choose whole fruits over fruit juice appears to be getting through. Fruit juice is a concentrated source of calories and doesn’t have the fiber or, sometimes, some of the nutrients that whole fruit provides. The CDC report found that fruit juice intake significantly decreased, while whole fruit consumption increased significantly — more than making up for the reduction in juice intake.

The findings about vegetables were not as positive. Not only was there no increase in vegetable consumption over the study period, 2003 to 2010, but 30 percent of the vegetables kids consumed were white potatoes, often eaten as less-healthful fried potatoes or even potato chips.

To help kids and teens eat more fruits and vegetables, parents can:

  • Eat fruit and vegetables with your children. Modeling good behavior and enjoying a healthful snack with your kids is always helpful.
  • Make sure a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are available and in eyesight. Cut up and prepare produce ahead of time, and keep it at the front of the refrigerator. Make it easier to reach for an apple or carrot sticks than it is to grab some chips or cookies.
  • Include children when shopping for, growing, and preparing fruit and vegetables.
  • Encourage children to eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Offer options — “Would you like this or that?” — to get kids to try new fruits and vegetables. Don’t just stick with favorites all the time.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, nutrition specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Make healthful eating fun for kids

I’m trying to get my children to eat healthier, but they constantly ask for high-sugar cereal and other foods that aren’t good for them. How can I entice them to eat healthier foods?

First, remember that they’re kids. Mealtimes (and snack times, too) should be good, even fun, experiences.

But that doesn’t mean they have to consist entirely of cookies and candy. One thing to think about, even with fruits and vegetables, is presentation. It can make all the difference.

A study published recently in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine examined elementary school children’s choices between a cookie and an apple (or both) at the end of their cafeteria serving line. The number of kids choosing apples skyrocketed when the apples had a sticker featuring Elmo, a popular character from Sesame Street. Interestingly, putting a sticker of an unknown character also increased apple choice, but not by nearly as much.

Another study, published in Pediatrics in 2010, showed that children were more likely to choose a snack — whether it was gummy bears or baby carrots — if the wrapper had a familiar character on it (in this case, the characters tested included Shrek, Scooby-Doo and Dora the Explorer).

The findings suggest that the makers of healthy foods can use marketing and branding concepts to increase their products’ appeal to children much the same way as big-name processed foods have done for decades. But it can be expensive. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the food industry spends an estimated $1.6 billion annually to market food and beverages directly to children and teens.

Still, there are a few things you can do at home to boost your children’s interest in healthy food:

  • Let your kids help in the kitchen. Even children as young as 2 can help wipe tables, tear lettuce or greens, snap green beans, and rinse produce. Getting kids involved with meal preparation will increase their enthusiasm to eat the foods they help prepare.
  • Help your kids make fun, healthy snacks. Ideas include “Bugs on a Log,” made by filling celery with a little peanut butter and placing raisins on top, or “Fruit Kebobs,” made by putting melon balls and cubes of fruit on a stick.
  • Most of all, be a good role model. Pile those vegetables high on your dinner plate. Drink your milk. Choose whole-grain foods you enjoy, and share them with your children. As with anything, children learn more from watching what you do than from listening to what you say.