The primary role of fruits and vegetables in the diet is to provide vitamins A, C, and K as well as folic acid and the mineral potassium. Further, fruits and vegetables provide fiber, carbohydrates, and some trace minerals. Vegetables also provide small amounts of protein.
In addition to nutrients, fruits and vegetables provide other substances, often called "phytochemicals," which may help in the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
If your child does not like a certain fruit or vegetable, try others that have similar nutritional value. For example, many fruits are high in vitamin C, so you can choose from oranges, strawberries, grapes, fresh pineapple, plums, or kiwis.
Fruits high in beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body, include cantaloupe, mangoes, papayas, and red bananas.
Also, since many children prefer fruit to vegetables, one can substitute a fruit for a vegetable of comparable color and nutritional value.
Strawberries and kiwis are high in vitamin C and also offer similar nutrition to broccoli. The fiber and vitamin C found in apples is similar to that of white potatoes. Cantaloupe can be substituted for sweet potatoes. Green melons can take the place of green squash.
Offer children fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors. Grapes come in green, red, and black varieties and are high in potassium and vitamin C. Sweet peppers come in a rainbow of colors, and are higher in vitamin C than oranges. Plums and a new cross between apricots and plums called "pluots" come in wonderful colors, ranging from purple to green. Apples also come in a variety of colors. Children often prefer vegetables raw, and dips can be a parent's most useful trick. Dipping raw vegetables in an acceptable salad dressing often makes these vegetables more appealing to a young child.
The same may be done with fruit - try offering slices of pear, apple, or peach with a small container of applesauce to dip them in.
Fruit and vegetable juices also count as servings. However, over-consumption of fruit juices can displace more nutrient rich things in the diet. Further, fruit juice doesn't contain much - if any - fiber, which is a significant component of intestinal health. Vegetable juices also often contain high levels of sodium, as do canned vegetables. Fresh or frozen vegetables are better choices.
Finally, remember that children's tastes may change over time; therefore, reintroduce fruits and vegetables that have been turned down in the past.
What Is a Serving?
Currently, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommend children eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The Food Guide Pyramid breaks down that recommendation to at least two servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit a day.
A serving is approximately equal to each of the following:
1/2 cup of cooked or chopped raw vegetables
1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
1/2 cup of chopped raw or canned fruit
3/4 cup of fruit juice
1 medium piece of fruit
1/4 cup of dried fruit
- Adapted from Food Allergy News, Vol. 14, No. 3.
- Jo Arpee, M.S., is a registered dietitian a FAAN member, and a frequent contributor to Food Allergy News.