Kids aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, and when they do consume produce, they are more likely to eat french fries than nutrient-rich dark green or orange vegetables, a study shows.
That won’t surprise parents who have been trying to tempt their kids with better diets for years.
Researchers at Ohio State University analyzed government data on 6,500 children and teens, ages 2-18, and found that the children were consuming an average of 2 cups of fruits, vegetables and juice a day. Teens ate only slightly more than that.
The government nutritional guidelines base recommended produce intake on total calories consumed. The range is 2 to 6 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables each day, based on an intake of 1,000 to 3,200 calories a day. Someone consuming 2,000 calories a day should eat 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day.
Other findings reported in the March Journal of the American Dietetic Association:
• French fries are the most common type of vegetable children eat. Fries account for about one-quarter of children’s vegetable intake.
• Juice makes up about 40 percent of kids’ fruit intake.
• Fruit and vegetable consumption is greater in families with higher incomes. Earlier research has shown that this is because fresh produce can be expensive, and there often aren’t stores that sell it in low-income neighborhoods.
If french fries and fruit juice had not been included in the survey data, then children would be eating far fewer fruits and vegetables than they should, says Hugo Melgar-Quinonez, an assistant professor in the department of human nutrition at Ohio State.
Parents have to get their children to go greener by eating more deep-green leafy vegetables, he says. His advice: Always include vegetables and fruits in children’s meals, even if it means putting baby carrots and broccoli or a sliced apple on the table with the meal: “Just a little effort makes a big difference in kids’ diets and therefore their health.”
Barbara Lorson, a registered dietitian at Ohio State, recommends offering vegetables when the children are especially hungry, such as after school.