President of Produce for Better Health Foundation and leader of the Fruit and Veggies More Matters nationwide health initiative shares her tips on raising a healthy family.
Registered dietitian with PhD in Foods and Nutrition Science; mom of two teens, ages 17 and 19; President of Produce for Better Health Foundation; leads Fruit and Veggies More Matters
nationwide health initiative.
Elizabeth, I have admired you for years as the president of Produce for Better Health. Your program, ‘Fruit and Veggies More Matters,’ is the largest ever nationwide initiative to help Americans become healthier by eating more fruits and vegetables. I think most moms recognize the cute ‘Fruits and Veggies More Matters’ logo that we see on the produce bags in the grocery stores and on canned or frozen fruit and vegetable labels. It seems that everyone knows that eating more fruits and vegetables is important, but it can also make a huge impact in helping to fight obesity, cancer and heart disease … our nation’s biggest health issues. It seems so easy to do, but still Americans aren’t eating enough. Why?
Well, the good news is that children ages 2-12 are edging up a bit in their consumption of fruits and vegetables, as are adults between ages 18-45 – their parents. Unfortunately, teens and the elderly (over 65) bring the average down. Our online research queried 700 moms with kids under 10 years old. About 90% of moms that we surveyed agreed that it is important to include fruits and vegetables in their family’s meals and snacks. Moms appreciate the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables. They say that the top reasons for including fruits and vegetables are to stay healthy, offer a balanced diet, and because they taste good.
Anita: When I started this new Healthy Moms Raising Healthy Kids blog, you were at the top of my list of moms to to talk to. I find that my daughters are so picky about what they eat. I can get them to eat most fruits but only a few types of vegetables. So, I’m looking forward to hearing your advice as a mom and as a health advocate. Are your kids the “star” fruit and veggie eaters? Do they love every vegetable?
Elizabeth: They don’t! As a mom, I, too, have struggled over the years to get my kids to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I’ve tried a lot of strategies.
"Involving kids in growing and in the preparation is also a great strategy to get kids to eat a greater variety of fruits and vegetables."
Anita: Oh, it’s good to hear that it’s not just me! So now that your kids are teens, what is your advice for young moms?
Elizabeth: I think it really helps to have both parents on the same page. More than once I’ve heard, “Dad isn’t eating it. Why should I?” Healthy eating is harder to instill if both parents don’t embrace it. When kids see their parents eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, they learn that this is ‘normal’ eating.
Anita: Yes, that makes sense. So with your husband not being a big fan of fruits and veggies, what do you do?
Elizabeth: Over time I’ve found meals that they do like, meals that include fruits and vegetables. For example, I add tomato sauce (no chunks or seeds!) to soups, stews, chili, and goulash. (Success, to me, was when the kids finally outgrew the butter on pasta stage and actually ate red spaghetti sauce.) They prefer strawberries and grapefruit with sugar and carrots or celery with ranch dressing…and I’m thrilled. I always try to have something on the table: grapes, sliced apples, sliced oranges, canned pears, sliced peaches (with cinnamon and sugar, the way they like it), nothing fancy or mixed together. Baked potatoes, frozen corn, sautéed mushrooms, and baked sweet potatoes are popular, too. I try new vegetable dishes regularly, and occasionally they’ll find something new here that they like, too. When my kids were little, I’d encourage them to try some vegetable dishes, to see if ‘their taste buds had matured’, which let them know that they may not like it now but they might as they got older. Here are some other good ideas for moms: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/quick-guide-to-getting-more-fruits-and-vegetables
“Healthy eating is harder to instill if both parents don’t embrace it. When kids see their parents eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, they learn that this is ‘normal’ eating.”
Anita: Yes, as I think back, my kids eat a lot more variety than they used to. Mackenzie, my just turned 18 year old, was really picky and ate very few veggies as a child, but now as a teen, she eats salads and a pretty good variety of vegetables, including vegetables that she would have never even tried when she was younger. So, you are right. Keep trying; and fit them in where you can.
Elizabeth: Involving kids in growing and in the preparation is also a great strategy to get kids to eat a greater variety of fruits and vegetables. And I don’t think peer pressure can be underestimated. My kids were great eaters as infants and even at daycare, where all of the kids were eating the same thing. But then they entered a school where kids had to bring their lunches (there wasn’t a school lunch program that served warm nutritious meals) and they were made fun of if the cucumbers and tuna ‘smelled funny.’ The more that kids learn what ‘normal’ eating is at home and at school, with the addition of more fruits and veggies in school meals, the more acceptable it will be to them in the long term.
Anita: Yes, Heather Cabot mentioned a similar strategy that really worked for her. She made me laugh because she emphasized that she doesn’t say anything when she sets out the cut-up fruits and vegetables or her kids will try to negotiate for something else. But if she just puts the fruit bowl or veggies out, her kids really like it. I think almost everyone loves the taste of fruit, and once they start noshing on it, they don’t want anything else. So I guess that is smart as a mom. Just don’t say anything. I probably try to push the health message too much to my girls. I get a lot of rolled eyes!
Elizabeth: Yes, I agree! I never fussed too much about it (in front of the kids) when they were younger; food battles were not something I was interested in. As older teens, though, they now know what they should eat more of and less of – and why – and all things considered, they’re doing OK. In fact, if anything, it has taught me that there are probably a lot of other moms out there who struggle, and it’s made me more empathic. We can preach all we want but have to recognize that if it’s overwhelming to be ‘perfect,’ it’s too easy to just give up.
“‘More Matters.’ That means just focus on eating more fruits and vegetables as often as you can, including fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice. Think about making sure you are including fruits and vegetables at each meal and snack. If you do that, you can call that success!”
Anita: I love your ‘Fruit and Veggies More Matters’ website! It has so many recipes, ideas and tips. One section gives 10 suggestions for fruit snacks. Fruit sandwiches … I never thought about adding fruit with cheese on whole grain bread. That is such a great idea for a healthy snack or even for a sack lunch. And popsicles made from 100% juice are guaranteed to please most kids.
Elizabeth: We also have a site for kids: FoodChamps.org. It has lots of games and activities for kids ages two to about eight, or a little older or younger, depending on the child. All the activities are fun and designed to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables. We know it can be difficult to get kids to eat fruits and veggies because there are so many other choices available. This site offers a fun way for kids to learn about good nutrition.
Anita: So how do we know when we are successful in getting our families to eat enough fruits and vegetables?
Elizabeth: Kids need from 2-5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day, and adults need closer to 6 cups each day. Literally ‘half your plate’ should be fruits and veggies. Unfortunately, most kids and adults only eat about half of what they need. So ‘More Matters.’ That means just focus on eating more as often as you can, including fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice. Think about making sure you are including fruits and vegetables at each meal and snack. If you do that, you can call that success!
Anita: Thank you, Elizabeth, for these great tips. And most of all, thank you for all you are doing to contribute to healthier families!