5 Tips to Help Kids Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Child eating lunch
Kindergarten children eating lunch outdoors smiling to camera

As a nutritional epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I know that healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for optimal growth and brain development. A healthy diet can reduce the risk of serious health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure that can start in childhood. Fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.

However, as a mother of two young children, I also know that it is not always easy to get children to eat fruits and vegetables. Many children are not eating enough. In fact, many children as young as 1–5 years of age are not eating fruits and vegetables every day, according to a new CDC analysis. Here are five tips to help you get more fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet:

  1. Choose fresh, frozen, or canned. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables can be just as healthy as fresh options. Look for frozen vegetables without added sauces, or choose fruits canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. Frozen and canned options are longer lasting, may save you money, and can be a quick way to add fruits and vegetables to your kids’ meals. For example, you can add frozen berries to plain yogurt or add canned vegetables to a soup.
  2. Keep the kids involved. Studies show that involving children in meal prep is a good way to develop healthy eating habits. Here are some ways to involve younger and older children in meal prep:
    • For younger kids–start simple with something like a yogurt parfait or a healthy snack. Kids can find and place items in the grocery cart. They can also help with measuring, placing items in a bowl or serving dish, or mixing.
    • For older children–they can look up and choose recipes, make shopping lists, and even help keep track of ingredients in the store or online. They can help with cutting, chopping, peeling, or cooking on the stove. Remember that some skills may require supervision. For a free, simple way to get started, check out these kid-friendly Look and Cook Recipes from USDA’s MyPlate.
  3. Plan and pack ahead. It’s no secret that parents are busy, and it feels like our kids are always on the go! One quick and easy way to help your children eat more fruits and vegetables is to have pre-cut fruits and vegetables available in easy grab-and-go containers. You can even designate an easy-to-reach kid’s shelf where they know to go for these healthy snacks.
  4. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. It’s normal for your child to refuse some foods at first, but repetition is the key.  Especially when it comes to vegetables. The more kids are exposed to familiar and unfamiliar options, the more likely they are to eat them. In fact, experts believe it can take more than 10 tries before kids get used to a new taste. Exposure can start with looking, touching, smelling, or reading about new fruits and vegetables.
  5. Bring healthy snacks to share at school parties and events. Children can consume up to half of their daily calories at school. This includes class birthdays, holiday parties, and special events. Snacks are also often provided at after-school and extracurricular activities. When it’s your turn to bring a snack, think about skipping the sweet treats. Instead, choose healthy, easy, and tasty options. Instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, try 100% fruit juice, low sodium vegetable juice, or water. Instead of sweets and baked goods, try yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit, raw vegetables such as carrot sticks with a low fat dip, fresh fruit served in cupcake wrappers, and fruit kabobs.

For more information and resources about healthy eating habits for children at every age, please visit the Life Stages page at www.myplate.gov.

Dr. Adi Noiman is a nutrition epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a mother of two young children.