Are you an always, a sometimes or a never?
I’m talking, of course, about sitting at the table to eat as a family.
On the day of their study, they found that children whose families said they always ate together round a table ate five portions of fruit and veg. Those whose families said they sometimes did almost got their 5-a-day, reaching 4.6 portions, while children whose families who said they never ate together at a table got to 3.3 portions.
It’s food for thought. It’s an effect that we see time and time again in our work: children learn from our eating and cooking habits as adults, whether that’s as their parents or carers, childminders or nursery nurses, teachers, cooks, lunchtime supervisors and all sorts of others who work with children in the community from youth clubs, to Guide and Scout groups.
In fact, eating with others of any age often has a great ‘peer effect’ for encouraging them to try new things and eat healthier foods. It’s the principle behind all of the work to improve food at school. Children may turn up their noses at a particular vegetable, but if it’s in a dish that their friends have all got on their plates that day they are more likely to give it a go. We asked parents about this in a survey back in 2010, and 80% of those in our study said their children had tried foods in school that they never eat at home. Many of those foods were types of fruit and veg.
Fruit and veg are excellent sources of vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, iron and zinc, and also for fibre – which we all need for a healthy digestive system. But too many children simply aren’t eating enough. Results from a national dietary survey published in the summer showed that just 11% of boys and 8% of girls in the 11-18 year old group get their five-a-day.
Eating fruit and veg every day can also help prevent things like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, and helps us all avoid deficiencies in essential nutrients. So by getting your kids into good fruit and veg habits while they’re young, you’re helping to look after their health for the future too.
But it’s not just in the eating. Improving kids’ fruit and veg intake is about cooking, too. Research from our Let’s Get Cooking programme – which helps people of all ages improve their diet by learning to cook, and has created more than 5,000 cooking clubs all over the country – found that more than half of those who take part (58%) said they ate a healthier diet after learning to cook, and 92% use their new skills again back at home. A smaller study with very young club members as part of the research found that learning to cook may improve recognition of healthier foods, particularly bananas, tomatoes and peas, for four to eight year olds. And using food in play is one of our biggest tips for early years settings in our nationally-recognised guidelines for healthy food and drink for under-fives.
So if you’ve got a fussy eater in your house, or if your kids are getting nowhere near five portions of fruit and veg in a day, there are two big things to remember: eat with them and get them cooking!
- Find lots of tips and recipes on cooking with children from Let’s Get Cooking
- Like our Take Two at School page on Facebook – our campaign with food writer and Mum Fiona Faulkner to help parents and cooks to encourage children to eat at least two of their 5-a-day at school.
One of our other nutritionists, Laura, blogged for us that five a day for kids can sometimes feel like a mission impossible – even with the recent news of pledges from supermarkets, caterers and retailers under the Fruit and Veg Responsibility Deal.
Creativity is key. With some children, getting them trying fruit and veg can be really tough (think the culinary equivalent of that MI 2 rock face climb that Tom Cruise did!). But we can’t afford not to stick with it.
So, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to get your kids on a fruit and veg mission…
- …to get shopping for fruit and veg with you. Get them to guess the name of the weird-looking veg; to choose which colour peppers to buy; to count how many green/red/yellow/orange/purple veggies they can spot
- …to get cooking fruit and veg with you. Give them the chance to choose what’s on the menu using the fruit and veg you’ve bought –watch out for our regular Let’s Get Cooking recipes for making with children (you’ll spot them on Twitter using the hashtag #LetsGetCooking). Cooking really does work to get kids trying new things – we know, we’ve tried it!
- …to get a good fruit and veg example from you. Keep your own likes and dislikes to yourself! Eat fruit and veg with them – particularly important in those early years. There’s loads of information on this in our guidelines for nurseries, children’s centres and childminders.
- …to get creative with fruit and veg with you – check out our Pinterest boards for some weird and wonderful ideas on making fruit and veg fun, and try growing some at home – cress in a pot on the windowsill or tomatoes and runner beans in pots work well.
- …to eat two portions of fruit and veg at lunchtime at school
Don’t give up. Kids often need many, many tries of a food before they will accept it. Think of yourself as the Ethan Hunt of making fruit and veg fun. This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.
Keep up with other blogs from the Children’s Food Trust’s nutritionists at http://childrensfood.wordpress.com/