In Parts 1-3 of Childhood Obesity—A Preventable Problem I’ve been writing about ways to decrease obesity in our children:
- Decreasing TV, computer and video game time (“screen time”)
- Increasing physical activity
- How, when and where to eat—enjoying our food by sitting down at an eating place for both meals and snacks.
Now, let’s talk about the building blocks of healthy eating. This article: Fruits and Vegetables, the most under-eaten foods in America!
Why do we want our kids to eat fruits and veggies? They are major sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, plus antioxidants, fiber, and a whole host of other substances that keep our bodies healthy. Studies show that people who eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits on a daily basis have lower rates of many cancers, heart disease, and macular degeneration (a major cause of blindness in older adults)—what our kids eat now plays a role in their health later in life!
Fruits and veggies help us meet our nutritional needs, without excess calories—important for preventing excess weight gain and obesity! Just 1/4 cup steamed broccoli contains more than 100% of your 1 to 3 year old’s daily vitamin C needs and well over 50% of her vitamin A needs in just 13 calories! One medium sized orange meets more than 100% of vitamin C needs for 1 through 13 year olds in just 65 calories. Both oranges and broccoli are great sources of folic acid, potassium, and fiber as well. Which would be a better snack for your child—a 65 calorie orange or a 180 calorie granola bar?
Can taking a vitamin-mineral supplement take the place of eating fruits and veggies?No! Though many have tried, no onehas yet figured how to include all of the healthful substances from fruits and vegetables in a pill form. There is just no substitute for the real thing.
So, the big question: How do we get our kids to eat these wonderful foods?
- First and foremost: YOU as a parent need to model healthy eating; include fruits and/or veggies with every meal!
- Offer your child a variety of fruits and vegetables–she needs to see them on her plate at every meal. Start with very small amounts and do not make a big deal over whether or not she eats them. It can take some children 20 or more exposures to a food before they will even put it in their mouths.
- Try some unique ways of getting veggies into foods. Puree veggies into soups and pasta sauces. Add finely chopped veggies to meat loaf, lasagna, and macaroni and cheese.
- Try raw veggies (kids over 2 ½ years) or chilled, steamed veggies with dips. Veggie dip recipe: blend together ¼ cup plain yogurt with ¼ cup cottage cheese and 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, plus 1/8 tsp each: garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, and ¼ tsp dill weed.
- Sauté veggies in olive oil and garlic—cook them just until they are tender and are still bright in color.
- Roast veggies—potatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, mushrooms, asparagus, peppers, onions, winter squash, turnips, rutabagas…you name it. Toss them with a little olive oil, mixed with crushed garlic and herbs, then bake in a shallow baking pan at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes, or until the veggies are all tender.
- Add canned beans or lentils to tacos, salads, soups or casseroles. Beans and lentils add protein as well as fiber, folic acid, iron, calcium, zinc and lots of potassium.
- Make “whole fruit smoothies” by blending fresh and frozen fruit together in a blender; add some plain yogurt for a little protein.
- Make fruit flavored milk—blend frozen bananas, berries, peaches or other fruits with milk in the blender.
- Use fresh or frozen fruit on top of cereal to sweeten it without sugar.
- And, of course fruit just by itself makes a great snack or addition to a meal!
The bottom line is make sure fruits and/or vegetables are a part of all meals and most snacks that you offer your kids. For more specifics, see Healthy Choices, Healthy Children, A Guide to Raising Fit, Happy Kids, by Lori Brizee with Sue Schumann Warner, published by Paraclete Press, October 2011, or go online to www.choosemyplate.gov, a great website for learning about healthy eating.