Kids eating 5 a day is not reached by most families. Most of us know that but often it can be a struggle. Often its even more challenging for kids and we have the job of providing healthy food for them.
The Health survey for England in 2018 found that only 18% of children (5 to 15 yrs) ate the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. The average number was three portions a day (1)
One of the hardest challenges I see is getting kids to eat enough fruit and vegetables. We also want them to enjoy eating them not because we (as parents) want them to.
This blog explores the guidance around what is a portion for 1 – 4yrs and children 5 or more. What this actually looks like. I will also clear up the myths about what does and doesn’t count towards your five a day and most importantly my top tips on how to get them to eat 5 a day.
Why is 5 a day good for children?
Toddlers who have a diet high in fruit and vegetables have been found to be associated with a lower BMI and reduced risk of obesity (2)
Fruit and vegetables are also protective against other chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes etc (3, 4, 5).
Fruit and vegetables contain a range of vitamins, minerals, fibre as well as phytochemicals. Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables is really important for healthy development and gut health.
The earlier your child gets into the habit of trying and experimenting with different fruits and vegetables the more likely these habits will stick and carry on.
What is a portion?
A portion size varies depending on the age, sex and activity levels of the person as we all have different nutritional requirements. Children under 5 years have smaller requirements and therefore smaller portion sizes.
A 40g portion of fruit or vegetable is an amount that has been calculated as a guideline for children under 5 years. Children over 5 years require the same portion size as adults for fruit and vegetables which is 80g.
A note to remember is that portion sizes are a guide and children’s appetites vary just like adults. So you may find your child eats a bit less or a bit more than these amounts. If they are a healthy weight and thriving then you know you’re on the right track.
What does a portion look like?
This depends on the age of the child. I have given some examples below for the different age groups.
Using your childs hands as a guide then a portion counts as their cupped hand. So how much they can fit into their cupped palm gives you a good picture.
5 a day portion sizes for 5 yrs +
A portion of 80g would equal the same as these examples:
- A medium sized fruit like an apple
- Two small sized fruits like plums or apricots
- A heaped tablespoon of dried fruits like raisins
- About 3 tablespoons of cooked vegetables like peas or sweetcorn
5 a day portion sizes (1 – 4yrs)
For more information on portion sizes for other food groups you might be interested to check this out.
It includes: What makes a healthy meal? How many portions in a day? What size portion do I give for meals and snacks? and an example meal plan /routine.
Do potatoes count as 5 a day?
Unfortunately white potatoes don’t count as one your 5 a day as they are too starchy and fit into the carbohydrate food group instead. They do have lots of nutritional benefits and eating the skin can provide a good source of fibre too. In addition yams, cassava and plantain don’t count either for the same reason.
However sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips and swedes do count. They are often a good choice for fussy eaters too as they are slightly sweeter than some vegetables and that can make them more appealing.
What counts towards your childs 5 – a day?
Fresh, tinned, dried and frozen fruit and vegetables all count. Its best to include a variety if possible, thinking about a rainbow of colours so your child is getting a variety of nutrients they need.
You may also be surprised to know that pulses and beans count as a vegetable too. So things like lentils, chickpeas, different types of beans like baked beans, haricot beans, kidney beans, black beans and so on. These also provide loads of other benefits and a great substitute of protein if your child is not a big meat eater. They only count towards 1 of your 5 a day.
Fruit juice can also count but just ensure that its just one glass a day (150ml) or a small glass. The same applies to smoothies. My top tip is also to have them with a meal rather than between meals so your child is not getting fruit sugars sitting on their teeth!
Frozen vegetables are usually cheaper than fresh and still provide nutritional benefits. Peas for example are frozen quickly after being harvested so they don’t lose their nutritional value. You can also remember to steam or cook vegetables for a short period of time, so they keep some bite.
Canned fruit is also a cheaper option compared to fresh fruit. They come in either natural juice, light syrup or syrup. Ideally natural juice is a better choice as it contains less sugar but you can always rinse fruit.
Fruit and vegetables that are part of a meal like in a sauce or soup do count too.
How do I get my kids eating 5 a day – top tips
Now you know the portion sizes and what counts towards 5 a day, here comes the tricky part – getting them to eat lots of fruit and vegetables!
Role modelling (parents, carers, grandparents etc)
Being a role model for a child and eating with them as much as possible will show them your enjoying eating fruit and vegetables and they are more likely to eat them too.
Explore fruit and vegetables outside of meal times
By taking the pressure off meal times you can explore new fruit and vegetables so they are more familiar with them at meal times. For example shopping for them together and letting them put them in the basket they are touching and getting a better sense of them.
Get your kids involved with growing fruit and veg
Planting some fruit and vegetables seeds or plugs and getting your child to look after them with you as they grow and harvest them will help them be more familiar with them.
Hopefully they will enjoy this process too and want to try them once they are harvested. Easy ones are try are cress, peas, beans, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, strawberries, rhubarb.
Get them in the kitchen
Getting them involved in the kitchen can really help too. Depending on their age you can judge their ability but anything from simply washing fruit or veg to chopping is exposing them and making them more comfortable with them (especially if new).
Add fruit and vegetables at every meal & snack time
If you provide at least one fruit and vegetable with every meal or snack then it makes up kids eating 5 a day. (provided they have 3 meals and two snacks).
For a good variety and balance, Ideally you would like them to have a balance of 3 vegetables and 2 fruit rather than lots of fruit and very little vegetables.
Serve vegetables first
Think about what vegetables you have to hand in the fridge and easy to prepare – serve them as a starter – vegetables first. Particularly if they are hungry you know they have eaten them up first. For example, carrot and cucumber sticks.
Vegetables aren’t just for dinner
Remember that vegetables can be eaten with any meal. Exposing them not just for dinner can mean they are getting more opportunity to try and eat them. For example adding mushrooms or beans on toast for breakfast or some spinach with some scrambled egg.
For more tips on other ways to expose your child to vegetables along with some recipe ideas head over here.
How do I teach my child portion control
For children and adults alike we can usually judge how hungry and full we are. Its important to be guided by these cues so that we don’t overeat. If you let your child decide how much they can eat then you are being responsive to their feeding.
The best way to do this is to let them serve themselves or ask them how much they want on their plates. They are also more likely to eat what they have chosen.
This doesn’t mean to say they will get the amount right but at least the portion size will be more manageable as they have decided how much they want to eat. Hopefully less waste too!
If you’re struggling with portion sizes and not sure if your child is eating the right amount for their age then I have created two guides which details portion sizes for all the food groups.
We all know getting kids eating 5 a day is not an easy task, especially fussy eaters.
Understanding the 5 a day portion sizes and what counts towards 5 a day will help guide you towards the right nutrition for your child.
I have shared with you lots of my top tips on how to get your kids eating 5 a day which will help to get more fruit and vegetables into your childs diet. Just remember it’s not an overnight transformation but by introducing a new tip gradually hopefully these new habits will stick.
If you are still struggling to get your child to eat more variety and would like some further support. Then i offer a free clarity call to see how I can help you. Click on the button below to get started.
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References on request