This is Part 5 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABCs of Healthy Kids. Learn more at www.snohd.org/healthykids.
Top Three Take-Aways:
- Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and more that young bodies and minds need to stay healthy as they grow.
- There are multiple resources to help connect families with nutritious food if cost is a barrier.
- Don’t be discouraged if kids don’t like certain fruits or vegetables. There are many different types to try, and many ways to try them.
The superpowers of fruits and vegetables
Young bodies and minds are growing and changing quickly. They need nutritious food to help them thrive.
Fruits and vegetables are a good source of the vitamins and minerals kids need. Many fruits and vegetables also are a good source of fiber, which helps people feel full and keeps digestion normal. They also tend to be lower in calories, fat content, sodium and cholesterol, compared to many other foods. This means you can serve kids a hefty snack that fills their bellies without overeating.
Eating fruits and vegetables instead of artificially sweetened and flavored foods also can help reduce the likelihood of long-term complications such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some types of cancers.
The amount of fruit or vegetables a child should eat daily depends on age, height, weight and physical activity. Recommendations may also be adjusted based on any underlying health conditions, so be sure to talk to you doctor if your child has specific health concerns such as food allergies, diabetes or digestive issues.
General recommendations by age can be found as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate resources.
Children and teens may insist that they don’t like healthy snacks. Don’t lose hope. There is a wide variety of fruits and veggies out there, with all sorts of flavors and textures. These foods also can be prepared different ways. A kid who turns their nose up to cooked spinach might not notice a handful mixed into a berry smoothie. Canned fruit may be hit and miss for some kids, but see if they like blackberies fresh off the vines in the summer – just be careful of thorns and juice-stained little fingers!
Fresh fruits and vegetables are great and can be found at local stores as well as farmers markets. But remember that kids get the same nutrition from eating fruits and vegetables that are frozen, canned (preferably without sweetened syrup) or dried. They can be whole, diced, pureed, mashed, or blended into other meal components like sauces or fillings. Don't be afraid to get creative.
What if fruits and vegetables are too expensive?
Groceries can be pricey, and sometimes fruits and vegetables are out of the budget for families. It’s important that children have access to nutritious food, and there are resources to help. Here are some options to consider if you need assistance affording healthy food:
- The Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP), called Basic Food in Washington, can provide monthly food benefits to qualifying low-income families. Learn more and apply at on the Basic Food website. You can also check with your local farmers market if they accept SNAP-EBT cards – a number of them do! More information about the farmers market program is available from the Washington State Department of Health.
- The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) helps pregnant women, new moms and young children with food and nutrition. Learn more about WIC in Snohomish County from Sea Mar-Community Health Centers and ParentHelp123.
- During the summer, many schools or other community locations such as YMCA’s or Boys & Girls Clubs offer summer meals for kids. These meals are free for ages 18 and younger. Watch for updates from your local school district or check www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids.
- Food banks located throughout Snohomish County provide food at no-cost for low-income households. Remember, even if fresh fruits and veggies aren’t always available, canned or dried fruits and vegetables are great nutritious options, too. For help finding a food bank near you, see information from the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition.
- You can call 211 for over-the-phone assistance finding food resources and other support.
Tips and tricks
It’s not always easy to convince kids to eat fruits and vegetables. It's worth it, though. By encouraging a healthy diet from a young age, you build lifelong healthy habits.
Here are some tips and tricks worth trying:
- Eat the rainbow. Challenge yourself and your kids to try new fruits and veggies of all different colors. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and shades of purple, too! Work your way through orange carrots, green broccoli, yellow pineapples, purple blackberries, and more. Who in your family can eat the most different colors in one week?
- Mix, mash or blend it in. Big pieces of vegetables can trigger the dreaded “yuck!” reaction in kids and make it an exercise in patience just to get them to try a bite. Try making vegetables in different ways. Blend some greens into a smoothie, mash carrots or squash in with sweet potatoes, or chop up onion and mushrooms really small to add to sauce for your pasta. Maybe a creamy broccoli and cheddar soup is more of a hit than plain broccoli, or the green beans get eaten when they’re in a casserole. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes.
- Make a game of it. Most kids love a challenge. Check out fruit and veggie BINGO boards and other activities to turn dinner time into game night. Keep up with your BINGO boards throughout the week. Who can get a BINGO first?
- Start young. Introduce soft or mashed fruits and veggies to babies once they are ready to start eating solid foods, and keep these healthy dishes and snacks as part of their daily diet while they grow up. People often enjoy favorite childhood dishes for the rest of their lives – why not make fruit and veggies part of their go-to snacks and meals?
- Have it handy. Sometimes the toughest barrier to having a healthy meal or snack is whether it is accessible at meal or snack time. If an apple, banana or carrot sticks are on hand, they make an easy snack. Think of some easy fruits and vegetables for kids to enjoy, and make sure to keep them in stock as much as possible.
- Model good behavior. Your children watch what you do. Eat the foods you want them to eat. Share healthy snacks with them. Gather for meals and let them see you enjoy healthy food. Go for seconds on the veggie dish! Few things encourage children, especially young children, more than seeing the people they look up to modeling healthy habits.
Take some time now to check off the “E” in the ABC's for healthy children. Have you found fruits and vegetables that fit into your kids’ daily diet?
Eating fruits and vegetables helps give kids the nutrition they need to grow and thrive.