We all know how important it is to make sure we’re getting 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day for health reasons, but research has shown that as many as nine out of ten children are not reaching the five-a-day target. Yes, pre-school age children can sometimes be fussy and reluctant to try new things, but these fun activities can really help encourage them to experiment and eat more of the good stuff. Bear in mind that as a rough guide, a portion for your child is around the size of their fist. Adult portions should be around the size of your own fist.
Here are some fun ways to five a day.
Chop a variety of colourful and interesting fruit into large chunks together with your child. Most small children will manage to cut softer fruit like bananas or melon with a child's knife. Give your child a wooden kebab stick and show them how to thread the fruit on. They could even make one for each member of the family.
Ask your little one to help chop and blend the fruit. If 100% fruit smoothies are not hitting the mark, try blending a ripe banana with some berries, plus milk or yogurt and some ice. A healthy version of a thickshake yet still containing all the goodness of whole fruits.
Have a picnic
Presenting food in new ways can sometimes encourage children to eat in new ways. So try laying a blanket out in the garden (or park, or indoors in poor weather) and arrange bowls of chopped raw veg such as carrots, peppers, cucumber and cherry tomatoes on the picnic blanket. It can be useful to allow children to help themselves at this stage, so they begin with the vegetables before you provide the carbs and protein.
Ice lollies are seen as a treat whereas often fruit is not. Using a variety of whole fruits whizzed separately in the blender you can create a variety of colourful ice lollies by popping in the freezer overnight. Add yogurt or fruit juice to some for more flavours. If you don’t have lolly mounds, you could also use yogurt pots or paper cups. Choose sturdy cocktail sticks or stirrers to make sure they can hold the weight of the frozen fruit. Keep the sticks in place while freezing by first placing a piece of foil over the top of the pot and then, once the mixture starts to freeze, poke the stick through the foil and pop back into the freezer to complete the freezing process.
Individual pizzas are perfect for little hands to decorate with some sliced colourful veg. Red, green and yellow peppers, red onions, sweetcorn kernels, cherry tomatoes and white mushrooms make ideal pizza toppings, why not make a pizza face? Similarly, sandwiches can be cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters and arranged with some chopped veg to make a picture. Flowers, butterflies, spiders, faces all make fun plates that will hopefully inspire your child to dig in.
Jelly is such fun for children, so capitalise on that by asking them to help chop up some of their favourite fruits to add to the jelly when it is still liquid. Once it has set, there's no reason it can’t be served as the classic children’s dessert of jelly and ice cream, but this time with the added goodness of fresh fruit.
Some foods that are maybe less obvious when totting up your portions include tinned fruit and vegetables such as tinned tomatoes, sweetcorn or pineapple; dried fruits like raisins, currants and apricots; and pulses like beans and chickpeas. Yes, even baked beans count towards your total, which is great news as a lot of kids love them – though beware of how much sugar and salt a portion of baked beans can contain, as some brands and varieties contain more than others.
It's important to keep it fun and not to give up. Be relaxed and patient when introducing new foods, sometimes a new food will need to be presented 10 times for children to feel happy about eating it. If all else fails try adding fruit and veg to other things. Whip up your family favourites as usual but for added goodness try grating some extra vegetables in. Add grated sweet potato, carrot, parsnip or courgette to most sauced dishes such as bolognese, chilli, curry, pasta or rice for an almost invisible boost of nutrients.
Good luck and Bon appetit!
Written for the Pre-school Learning Alliance by Martha Hales.