You most likely have heard that half of our plates should be filled with fruits and veggies; however, that is not always as easy as it sounds. While fruits and veggies provide many great nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients, it can be a challenge to get some children, and adults, to eat the recommended servings each day.
So how many servings of fruits and veggies do we need every day?
Think of the 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® rule or the Healthy Kids Countdown!
5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
4 servings of water a day
3 servings of low-fat dairy a day
2 hours or less of screen time a day
AND 1 or more hours of physical activity a day!
This countdown not only applies to kids, but adults too! Since 'one serving' of fruits and veggies can vary based on age, an easy recommendation to follow is one tablespoon of fruit and veggies per meal, per year of age and one tablespoon of fruit or veggie per snack, per year of age.
For an adult, 1 cup of a fresh fruit or veggie or 1/2 cup of canned or frozen is considered one serving. Two servings of fruit and three servings of veggies are appropriate, and total five servings each day.
When selecting fruits and veggies, go for color! Each different colored fruit and veggie contains different nutrients and by choosing a wide range of colorful fruits and veggies we will get the nutrition we need. If serving an apple at breakfast, you could serve grapes and broccoli for lunch, berries for a snack, and sweet potato for dinner.
A common question many parents find themselves asking is 'How can I add more fruit and veggies into meals and snacks?' Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Add fruits and veggies to smoothies
- Add fruit to oatmeal or cold breakfast cereals
- Add grated, shredded or chopped veggies to scrambled eggs
- Add grated, shredded or chopped veggies to pancake or muffin batter
- Use whole fruit instead of jelly on sandwiches
- Use avocado or hummus in place of mayo on sandwiches and wraps
- Add veggies to sandwiches and wraps
- Replace half of the ground meat in a recipe with lentils or beans
- Add grated, shredded or chopped veggies to lasagna, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce, casseroles, and stews
- Add extra veggies to pizza
- Offer crunchy veggies with hummus or a yogurt dipping sauce
- Replace candy pieces with dried fruit in trail mixes
- Serve fruit with a light yogurt
- Serve cookies or other baked goods made with oats and have fruits and/or veggies incorporated into the dough or batter
Picky eater or not, here are a few additional tips to encourage your child to eat more fruits and veggies:
- Get kids involved in the kitchen - Children enjoy being involved and take a greater interest when involved. In the kitchen, find safe and simple ways to engage your child from selecting which item to serve, to adding ingredients in a recipe to helping serve the item. Children are more likely to eat fruits and veggies when they can help at some point in the preparation process.
- Always offer a fruit and/or veggie at every meal and snack - Being sure to offer a fruit and veggie at each meal and snack should total a minimum of five fruits and veggies each day.
- Continue to offer on a regular basis - Even if your child does not like a specific fruit or veggie, it is okay to still offer them on occasion. Instead of always offering the fruit or veggie prepared a specific way, try a different method of preparation or recipe.
- Be a good role model - As a parent and/or role model, we should also be consuming five servings of fruit and veggies each day too. When we role model healthy habits, our children will notice and be more likely to make healthier choices.
As healthy habits are established, getting the recommended five servings of fruits and veggies should become less of a challenge over time. Keep in mind the goal of a variety of fruits and veggies and five or more servings of fruit and veggies each day to meet nutrient needs. When prepared with care just like main dishes, fruits and veggies take center stage on the plate. Have fun with your child on your culinary adventure to health.
Remember, More Matters!
Stephanie is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and licensed medical nutrition therapist who is employed by SpartanNash as a Regional Wellness Specialist. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University, her Master of Science degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.
Stephanie is ready to provide creative and realistic ways to incorporate healthy eating practices for all lifestyles. As much of a foodie as she is a dietitian, Stephanie enjoys the many colors, flavors, textures and dishes that bring us together around the table. Stephanie was a 2015 Produce for Better Health (PBH) Supermarket Dietitian of the year and keeps up-to-date on current nutrition through continuing education opportunities.