We should all be aiming to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg every day to meet our needs for essential vitamins and minerals. Scientific studies have proven that people who eat lots of fruit and veg are healthier and less likely to develop conditions like heart disease and some cancers. But getting fruit and veg into a fussy child isn’t always easy, so how can you help her reach her five a day?
What counts as one portion of your child’s five a day?
There’s no precise guidance on how much fruit or veg counts as one portion of your child’s five a day. For an adult, one portion is generally taken to be 80g, but the amount a child needs depends on her age, size and activity levels.
As a general rule, one portion for your child is the amount she can fit in the palm of her hand – so that might be two slices of apple for a toddler, but a whole apple for a four-year-old. A 150ml glass of unsweetened 100 per cent fruit or vegetable juice also counts towards your child’s total, but remember that juices should always be diluted and should always be served with a meal so it's less damaging to your child's teeth.
Do only fresh fruit and veg count?
You don’t have to turn your garden into a vegetable patch to give your child her five a day. Most fruit and vegetables count, including fresh, frozen, tinned, juiced or dried varieties. They also count if they’re part of a meal or dish, such as tomatoes in a pasta sauce or mushrooms in an omelette. If you buy canned fruit or vegetables, choose varieties in natural juice or water, with no added sugar or salt.
Juices only count as one portion of your child’s five a day, no matter how much your child drinks, as juice contains lower levels of fibre and vitamins than whole fruits. Smoothies may count as two portions, as long as they’re made with all of the edible parts of the fruit, including the peel. But don’t rely on smoothies too much, as the high levels of sugar and acid can damage teeth.
Beans and pulses also count towards your child’s five a day, but again, can only account for one portion, no matter how much she eats, as they’re lower in nutrients than other veg. And potatoes don’t count at all, because they’re classed as a starchy food (like bread or pasta) rather than a vegetable, although other root vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips, swede and turnips do contribute to your child’s daily target.
Giving your child her five a day
The best way to get your child to eat her five a day is to give her one or two portions of fruit or veg at each mealtime, plus a fruit snack in the afternoon. For example:
- Breakfast: add fruit such as apple or banana to cereal, and give her a portion of grapes = 1-2 portions
- Lunch: serve cucumber and carrot sticks alongside her sandwich = 1 portion
- Mid-afternoon: give her a banana, apple or pear = 1 portion
- Dinner: serve frozen peas with her beef casserole which also contains carrots and celery = 2 portion
What if she’s a fussy eater?
Although it’s good to serve two types of vegetable alongside a meal of meat or fish – for example broccoli and carrots, or peas and sweetcorn – some children won’t touch fruit or veg in their natural state. Fortunately, it’s fine to disguise them in other foods to help her get her five a day. You could try:
- Making tuna fishcakes with creamed sweetcorn added to the mixture
- Pureeing carrots and mushrooms to include in a pasta sauce
- Baking tasty chocolate muffins with added banana, carrot or courgette
Don’t forget that toddler-friendly meal and snack options, such as cartons of smoothie, beans on toast and snack bars made of 100 per cent dried fruit also count towards her total.