New research has found a simple way for parents to improve children’s eating habits – using storytime to share positive messages about healthy food.
Most children aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. In fact, the Australian Health Survey showed only 9% of children aged 4-8 years were meeting the recommended daily amount for their age group.
Positive food education is an important step in getting children excited about healthy foods, helping them develop good habits that will last them into adulthood.
To study the impact fun and engaging food education could have on fruit and vegetable intake, Accredited Practising Dietitian Aloysa Hourigan and her colleagues at Nutrition Australia Queensland ran storytime sessions in libraries and community organisations, using a book they developed called I’m Having a Rainbow for Dinner.
“For children, stories about nutrition need to be engaging and fun.”
They found that after attending these storytime sessions, children ate an average of one extra serve of fruit and vegetables per day. They were also more willing to try different vegetables and fruit, and parents gained confidence in offering children enough and different varieties.
“We all know how important it is that kids eat well and maintain a healthy weight, but the reality is it’s not always easy. If you’re like most parents, you’ve probably struggled at some point with the problem of how to get your kids to eat their veggies,” Ms Hourigan says.
“Using story time with parents is a positive way to promote healthy eating habits, especially fruit and vegetable intake, and food and health literacy in young children.
“For children, stories about nutrition need to be engaging and fun. Helping kids to become more familiar with and explore the taste and texture of different vegetables and fruit will increase the likelihood that they’ll try more new foods.
“It also reinforces the message that eating enough vegetables and fruit can help children thrive and develop to their full potential.”
This research was presented at the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) National Conference in Perth.
Fruit and vegetables: How much do children need?
The first step to improving children’s eating habits is understanding the current dietary guidelines. The Dietitians Association of Australia shares the following information about the recommended number of serves of vegetables and fruit for children each day:
- For children aged 2-3 years: 2.5 serves of vegetables, and 1 serve of fruit
- For children aged 4-8 years: 4.5 serves of vegetables, and 1.5 serves of fruit
- For children aged 9-11 years: 5 serves of vegetables, and 2 serves of fruit
What does a serve look like?
- ½ cup of cooked vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach, carrots or pumpkin)
- ½ a medium potato
- 1 cup of salad vegetables
- ½ cup cooked dried or canned peas, beans or lentils
- 1 medium piece of fruit (apple, banana, orange, pear)
- 2 small pieces fruit (apricots, kiwifruit, plums)
- 1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar).
Find out more at eatforhealth.gov.au