Kids want tasty food and fun school lunches. Parents want to keep them filled up with good things, but some eaters can be picky. Produce growers and shippers want to move more product.
So how do we get kids to eat more fruits and veggies?
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends children between the ages of 2 and 6 eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily. For older children and teens, it’s four or five servings of veggies and three servings of fruit daily.
There are clear benefits to getting the full amount — “Half the Plate!”:
- Better nutrition – Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients not found in other foods. Vitamin C boosts immunity, vitamin A improves eye health, and spinach provides iron.
- Lower risk of obesity – As the obesity epidemic is on the rise, nutrition in the early years becomes even more important. Fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, which makes kids feel full longer. They also contain fewer calories for their bulk.
- Better digestive health – High-fiber foods relieve constipation and help the digestive system work efficiently.
- Better academic performance – The Journal of School Health found kids with healthy diets did better on tests than other children did. Good nutrition helps kids learn.
But just because they eat celery sticks at home doesn’t mean they’ll do it when the cool kids see it and shake their heads. There are ways to shake things up a bit. The produce industry and its retail partners can help by encouraging these tips:
- Start with a cool container. A bento box or other container with sections keeps food separate. Pineapple chunks don’t make bread or pretzels soggy and fruit juice doesn’t get on things it shouldn’t. Boxes with sections let you pack them full of colorful choices, so when your child pops the lid it seems to overflow with goodness.
- Fill each section with variety. Put a handful of blueberries in one section and cherry tomatoes in another. Cut their sandwich into shapes with cookie cutters for a touch of playfulness.
- Encourage playing with the food. Most the things you pack will be finger foods. Encourage interaction when you prepare them. Put grapes in a snack sized zipper bag and use a wooden clothespin to pinch the bag into two sections. Decorate the clothespin so the whole thing looks like a butterfly. Cut an apple into eighths and use a stick pretzel mast to turn them into boats.
- Turn up the crunch. Kids love noise. You emphasize table manners at home, but in the cafeteria, they’re going to be silly. Use that to your advantage by challenging them to see which veggie crunches the loudest. Then send carrots, celery with light ranch, or apple wedges. Before long, their friends will want in on the crunch contest too.
- Create colorful skewers. Don’t limit yourself to a sandwich for the main entrée. Use toothpicks to create colorful kebabs with sliced meat, cheese, cherry tomatoes, grapes, and bell peppers. Pack them on top of a lettuce leaf so the colors really pop.
- Put it in a thermos. Send 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices in an insulated bottle. When the weather cools, use your slow cooker to turn protein and veggies into a savory stew that feels like a hug from home.
While most of us prioritize healthy eating, not all kids have that option. Most schools have vending machines kids can access for extra food. Parents and the indsutry can encourage schools at the local level and higher to pack those machines with healthy choices like:
- Black bean or lentil chips
- Packaged apple wedges with peanut butter
- All-natural fruit strips
- Dried bananas
- All-natural granola bars
For a look at more options, check out the Naturals2Go line of vending machines packed full of healthy treats.