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Vegetables

Child Nutrition Basics

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Updated March 12, 2008

One easy way to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is to make it fun.

One easy way to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is to make eating fruits and vegetables fun.

Photo: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

If there is one thing that parents could change about their child's eating habits, it would usually be to get them to eat more vegetables.

Most kids, even picky eaters, do fine with all of the other food groups - but vegetables are often an issue in many households.

How do you get kids to eat more vegetables?

Do your kids need to eat vegetables?

Vegetables

Vegetables are an important food group and a key part of the food pyramid, so ideally, your kids would eat some each day.

In addition to being high in fiber, most vegetables are low in calories, low in fat, and don't have any cholesterol. Most are also important sources of many vitamins and minerals, including calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A.

Eating fruits and vegetables can also decrease a person's chances of developing many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, stroke, some types of cancer, and may even help prevent cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

Vegetable Recommendations

One of the first questions parents have about vegetables is how many do their kids actually need to eat each day.

Following the food pyramid, some general recommendations include that:

  • 2- to 3-year-old children eat 1 cup of vegetables each day
  • 4- to 8-year-old children eat 1 1/2 cups of vegetables each day
  • 9- to 13-year-old girls eat 2 cups of vegetables each day
  • 14- to 18-year-old girls eat 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day
  • 9- to 13-year-old boys eat 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day
  • 14- to 18-year-old boys eat 3 cups of vegetables each day

When thinking of serving sizes and daily recommendations for vegetables, keep in mind that 1 cup of vegetables is usually equal to:

  • a medium baked potato
  • a large ear of corn on the cob
  • 3 spears of 5-inch long broccoli
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 large stalks of celery
  • 1 cup of cooked vegetables

And since that can be spread over two or three of your child's meals and perhaps even at a healthy snack, it becomes much more reasonable to think about your kids eating their vegetables each day.

List of Vegetables

In addition to eating their recommended serving of vegetables each day, it can be important to try to vary the types of vegetables that your child eats so that he gets all the nutrients that different vegetables have to offer. For example, it would be better if your child eats, broccoli, peas, lettuce, carrots, celery, beans, and potatoes, instead of carrots being the only vegetable that he eats.

When serving vegetables to your kids, try to vary their diet and choose different ones from this list of vegetables:

  • Dark green vegetables (broccoli, greens, spinach, dark green leafy lettuce)
  • Orange vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, winter squash)
  • Dry beans and peas (dry beans, black eyed peas, tofu)
  • Starchy vegetables (corn, green peas, white potatoes)
  • Other vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, zucchini)

Vegetable Recipes

You may have to do some experimenting, but you can likely find some fun ways to get your kids to eat more vegetables. For example, it often works to buy fresh vegetables and not overcook them. These vegetables will have a lot of flavor and will still be crunchy, which is a big plus for many kids.

Some popular and kid-friendly vegetable recipes include:

  • vegetable soup
  • vegetable lasagna
  • pizza with vegetable toppings
  • egg omelet with bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms or tomatoes
  • sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, bell peppers, or onions as toppings
  • whole grain pasta with vegetables added to the sauce
  • carrots and broccoli with a dip as a snack
  • vegetable wraps

It can also help to let your kids choose vegetables at the grocery store or farmer's market, or even grow their own in your backyard.

What about hiding vegetables in your child's food? This is one way to get your kids to eat more vegetables, but you aren't really teaching them healthy eating habits. Instead, it can be better to offer your child small amounts of vegetables at each meal, don't force him to eat them, and model healthy eating habits yourself.



Sources:

United States Department of Agriculture. Inside the Pyramid. Why is it important to eat vegetables?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Fruit & Vegetable Program Q&A.

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