Why is it so important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables?
How can I encourage my grandchildren to eat more fruits and vegetables?
We have so many choices today as caregivers about what we provide for our families to eat. Think of yourself as the family stoplight. When you are making food choices, you should STOP and then proceed with CAUTION. Think about each food item. Is it nutritious or just providing empty calories? Is it worth your food dollar? Would it be best to prepare this food fresh, frozen, dried or canned? What meals can you prepare with this item? Once you have answered these questions, then you should GO ahead and make your selections.
Fruits and vegetables should be an important part of your family’s diet. There are five color groups of vegetables and fruits. They are red, yellow/orange, blue/purple, green and white/tan. Did you know that these colors are good for you? Fruits and vegetables contain compounds called phytochemicals that give them both their distinctive color and aroma.
Phytochemicals (such as antioxidants) are chemicals produced naturally by plants to protect themselves, but when consumed may also help humans protect themselves from disease. There is good evidence that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains may reduce the risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and also be good for the heart. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain the largest amounts of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals or antioxidants are in our food in the form of minerals, vitamins, carotenoids, polyphenols, etc. In addition to being rich in phytochemicals, fruits and vegetables are low in saturated fat. You might say, but, I give my family supplement tablets to ensure they get the best nutrition possible. Although supplements may be helpful; if possible-it is best to eat real food. Foods high in nutrients have fiber and other trace minerals in them that supplements may not. Highly processed and refined foods are not our best food choices. Refined foods such as sugar and alcohol do not contain phytochemicals.
Most Americans do not eat the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables. What counts as a serving for a fruit or vegetable? The MyPyramid food guide recommendations are now listed in cups. Examples of one cup are: a small apple, a large banana, 12 baby carrots, a large orange, a medium grapefruit or 1 large sweet potato.
It is recommended on average that adults eat 2½ cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit and 6 ounces of grains (of which 3 ounces are whole grains) each day. However, specific amounts per person vary depending on age, gender and their level of daily physical activity. For specific recommendations visit: http://www.mypyramid.gov/
How can you get your family members to eat more fruits and vegetables? It is best to encourage people at an early age to try a variety of fruits and vegetables. This will expose them to a multitude of flavors. Make a mental note to check out some of the more unusual fruits and vegetables as you are grocery shopping and then try serving them at home. Don’t give up just because your grandchild says they do not like something after tasting it once. Sometimes it takes time to develop a liking for some of the stronger flavored fruits/vegetables.
Keep a colorful “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables washed, handy and ready to consume to encourage family members to grab them for snacks. Incorporate fruits and vegetables into all of your main dishes. Soups, cereals, salads and casseroles are easy places to “blend in” various fruits and vegetables. A little creativity will help your grandchildren to make their dinner plate one to remember. Half a sliced grapefruit can become a face by adding grapes for eyes, a small pointed carrot for the nose, a red apple slice for the mouth, peach slices on each side for the ears. Including your grandchildren in preparing multi-colored meals will make them more excited about sampling their food creations! This will also be a great time for conversation-many topics have been discussed while cooking in the kitchen!
Label reading can become a fun family game as your grandchildren grow older. Teaching them to look at such things as serving size, calories and the amounts of Vitamin A, C, B-12, iron, sodium, fat, sugars, etc. will help them think more about what they are eating. Introducing the idea of label reading at an early age will encourage your grandchildren to make this a life-long habit. Make label reading a positive experience for them by always emphasizing the nutritive value of a food versus the calorie level. It is best to encourage being healthy rather than being too thin. Healthy people come in different shapes and sizes.
Remember; include a rainbow of colors in your diet. They contain an abundance of nutrients your family needs to be healthy!
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.
Robinson, J. (2003). What Color is Your Food? Taste a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for better health. North Dakota Extension Service. FN-595, Revised and reprinted - February, 2009.
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DeeAnn Leines is a health and nutrition educator with University of Minnesota Extension.
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