Studies prove that regular intake of fruit and vegetables not only reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease amongst children, but also cultivates an attitude of healthy living from a young age.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), low fruit and vegetable intake accounts for roughly 20% of cardiovascular disease in children worldwide. Further studies have shown that healthy habits are formed at a young age and that those who eat little fruit and vegetables during childhood rarely increase their consumption as they grow older.
The Harvard School of Public Health provides evidence that a high intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduction in the risk of major chronic diseases. They recommend consuming five or more servings daily and that green leafy vegetables are the most beneficial.
The old saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", may sound like a cliché, but it contains truth. Here are ten fun and easy tips to encourage your children to consume more fruit and vegetables:
- Start a vegetable garden. Spring is the best time to get your children interested in gardening. Not only is it fun, but it is also a great opportunity for your family to spend some quality time together.
- Make casseroles - prepare pasta with a tomato based sauce and gradually add finely chopped vegetables.
- Add chopped vegetables to tuna or chicken salad.
- Get creative - why not try making silly faces or animals with a variety of raw veggies? You could use red, green and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery, mini corn - cobs or green beans.
- Serve raw vegetables with a combination of mashed avocado, yoghurt and lemon juice.
- Include vegetables in every meal - serve salads, stir fried or marinated vegetables. Try flavouring vegetables with various herbs and spices.
- Keep a supply of raw vegetables in the fridge for a quick and easy snack.
- Set out a salad of cold cooked vegetables before a meal as this is usually the time when a child is hungriest.
- Take children to the supermarket and encourage them to choose which vegetables the family will eat on a given night and allow your child to help prepare the meals. For example, let your child wash lettuce or scoop peas, as kids are more likely to eat the foods they're involved in choosing and preparing.
- Practise what you preach! Set a good example. Remember actions speak louder than words and children often imitate their parents or caregivers. After all, you need your veggies too!
"By putting in a bit of time, effort and thought into how to include vegetables and fruit into your little ones daily meals, you will find that they eventually adjust and enjoy vegetables as much as you do. Also you can have peace of mind that you will be instilling life-long healthy habits and ensuring optimum health for your children," says Erika Ketterer, a registered dietician at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.
Remember to encourage your children to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables with every meal, especially the darker or deeper coloured ones, thus ensuring that your child will obtain a combination of micronutrients that he/she needs.
For more information about following a healthy lifestyle contact the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Heart Mark Diet Line on 0860 223 222 for advice from a registered dietician or visit www.heartfoundation.co.za