Good Reasons Why You and Your Kids Should “Eat Your Colors”

There are at least 2 good reasons to talk about nutrition this week…one is that this is National Nutrition Month. The other is that spring officially starts tomorrow, March 20th! Any signal that this challenging winter is coming to an end is welcome, and now we can start thinking about the good tasting and healthy abundance of fresh produce that will soon come available locally.

Now I’m not a nutritionist, but as part of my studies for a Masters degree in Public Health, I have done in-depth research on the benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, and have made significant – but not always successful – efforts to increase the amount and variety of produce we eat in our family, as a result of what I’ve learned.

Guidelines for Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

Many people recall earlier public health nutrition campaigns for “5 a Day” servings of fruit and vegetables. But the new MyPlate recommendations call for greatly increased servings of produce: to about 3 cups a day for older children (equivalent to 6 servings under the old system) and 4-5 cups for teens, women and men – equivalent to 8-10 of the old fruit and veggie servings! There are now also weekly guidelines for different classes of vegetables, such as dark green, red/orange and starchy, since emerging research suggests eating a variety of vegetables gives added benefit.

So why the big change?

Data Behind Increased Recommendations

When guidelines are issued to the public, they are “mostly” frozen in time. Yet research continues to advance. And significant evidence from numerous studies around the world has been growing to suggest that with fruit and veggies….more is better!

A 2012 paper which integrated the findings from over 200 studies of the impact of low produce consumption on risk for a range of diseases, found a probable link for obesity and cancer; and a convincing link for high blood pressure, heart disease (number one killer worldwide) and stroke. Fruit and vegetable intake had a possible link with a whole host of diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis to asthma to cataracts and dementia. Stronger assessments for these diseases were not feasible due to the number and type of studies conducted to date.

To add a little more punch to these findings, a 2006 paper reported that across 9 research studies, each additional serving of fruit and vegetables eaten per day decreased heart disease risk by 4%. A recent study that followed participants for 13 years found that the overall mortality rate decreased in a step-wise fashion for each increase in daily produce consumption – with an average 3-year difference in lifespan between the lowest and highest produce consumers!

And these results are not limited to adults. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2009, showed that the impact of fruit and vegetable consumption on blood markers for heart disease could already be identified in teens from 13 to 17 years of age. Takeaway message: there’s no time like the present to boost your family’s fruit and vegetable intake!

Addressing the “How” Challenge

As with so many things in life, the “how” of helping one’s family to eat more fruit and veggies is the real challenge…dealing with everything from kid (and adult) resistance to simply buying and preparing so much produce day in and day out! Here are a few ideas and resources to help support your efforts and engage your kids in “eating your colors.”

For Parents

  • Produce delivery companies – Farmer’s markets are great sources of fresh produce, but check to see if you have any organizations that deliver local or regional produce right to your door. Here in Indiana (and several neighboring states) we have a great company called Green BEAN Delivery who source locally and beyond to get the best quality and value fruit and veggies.
  • Mix in long lasting produce – root vegetables like beets, carrots and turnip – along with winter squash and citrus fruit tend to last longer than other varieties – so you can always keep some on hand
  • Fruit/Vegetables at every meal – try to have some produce for breakfast, lunch and dinner – even just some berries or some tomato wedges – and aim for different colors to get a variety of nutrients (MyPlate recommends that fruit and vegetables make up “half your plate”)
  • Plan/Prepare ahead – we prepare and cook vegetables on the weekend and keep them in the fridge to microwave and use during busy weeknight dinners
  • Use a tracker – resources like USDA’s SuperTracker and the MyFitnessPal app can help you keep track of what you are eating – including fruit/vegetables. These are probably too complex for kids, but might be of interest for teens as well.

For Kids

  • Produce calculator – the CDC has an easy calculator to show how many servings of fruit and veggies a person should eat based on age, gender and activity level. Anyone can use this, but I found it helpful with my 11yr old son to show him how much produce he really should be eating. Then for fun we started counting at meals to see how well he could do to reach the target.
  • Fun food sites and games
    • BAM! Body and Mind (from the CDC) – the Dining Decisions game is good for younger kids, and the site has other information for kids
    • Nourish Interactive has a range of Chef Solus games and other great info for kids and parents
    • Fuel Up to Play 60 – from the NFL and National Dairy Council, with the USDA
  • Recipes – try kid-friendly cookbooks (we have the Disney and Harry Potter cookbooks) and these recipes from Kid’s Health. BAM! Body and Mind also has easy kid recipes.

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


5 Responses to “Good Reasons Why You and Your Kids Should “Eat Your Colors””

  1. Stefanie Zucker Stefanie says:

    What a fabulous post! I immediately ran to grab my JuicePlus so I could get my daily dose of fruits & veggies (I know without them I never get enough) and then started thinking about all the new fruit & veggie recipes I’ve been using lately…and how i really need to add to that list. This really got me thinking! Thanks 🙂

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