Is ‘five-a-day’ enough for a growing child? How do we really give our children the best diet?
Diet. Not something that used to be associated with children but more a desperate attempt to drastically change the way people eat to lose weight. Nowadays the world is far more conscious of what is fuelling our bodies and minds. Especially when it comes to children, they need to be nourished and nurtured as well as educated as to what is healthy and what is not.
So a while back we were all given the five-a-day quota when regulating our eating habits, to include five portions of fruits and vegetables. This seems to have stuck in the minds of the masses and is being passed on to the next generations, an incredibly successful campaign launched using advice from the World Health Organisation. However, is this an accurate amount of fresh foods per day when considering optimum nutrition for a growing child?
Fruit and vegetables are an essential part of our diet, they provide us with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre. They help us to maintain a healthy gut which is paramount for our overall health and wellness. A wide variety of plant-based whole foods is considered necessary for boosting a child’s energy, also helping them to be more alert and capable of learning, and protect them from illnesses and health conditions which may arise from poor diet. So we know we need them, but how much do we feed our kids and what exactly does five-a-day entail?
The World Health Organisation recommends that we eat a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day. The reason this is named five-a-day is to make it more comprehensive and achievable to a wide audience. Being told to eat 400g makes far less sense to most than eating five fruits or vegetables per day. Therefore the five-a-day concept works; it’s easy to remember, to follow and to execute. However, it doesn’t mean that this is sufficient for everyone, it is more a minimum guideline than an exact requirement. The problem is that many people will try to round their intake up to five a day and think this is an achievement, whereas going way over this would be more beneficial to their health. The idea works fantastically for encouraging people to eat fruits and vegetables, but perhaps five pieces shouldn’t have been promoted as a cap? At LEAST five per day is what we ought to be pushing for.
What does five-a-day look like?
One portion of fruit or veg amounts to approximately 80g within this quota which could be represented in the form of a slice of melon, half a grapefruit, two plums, two mandarins, two broccoli spears, three heaped tablespoons or a large handful of peas, carrots, etc.
To feed a baby the same as a teenager obviously does not work so at around age ten it is feasible to give a child the same portions as an adult. And from baby to ten years increase as you see fit.
The Infant and Toddler Forum (ITF), an organisation made up of experts from paediatrics, dietetics, child psychology and those specialising in early years nutrition and development, recommend that “The amount of food that young children eat varies from day to day and meal to meal. Use portion sizes on how much to offer your 1-4 year olds, then allow children to eat to their appetite. Taller or more active children will eat larger portions than shorter or less active children.”
“For fruit and vegetables offer at least one to two servings at each meal and also offer them with some snacks. These are low energy, high nutrient foods – allow toddlers to eat larger portions if they wish to. Limit snacks to one per day because of their sugar content.”
Do all fruits and vegetables count?
Yes, unless potato is the carbohydrate part of your meal, in which case do not count it towards your quota. You may also include freshly frozen vegetables into the requirement as they do maintain their nutritional value. Avoid canned and jarred fruits or vegetables due to the liquid containing preservatives and often high sugar content. And no, ketchup is not a vegetable! Nor should we count heavy-on-the-oil fried foods. Fruit juice doesn’t contain the essential fibre, however smoothies are great as the fibre is still present. Eat fruit, eat vegetables, raw is best, steamed, boiled and stir-fried are next. Don’t limit the intake to one or two fruits or vegetables, a variety is essential to promote optimal health as it delivers more range of vitamins and minerals and is therefore far more nutritious. The more diversity of fruit and vegetables eaten, the better for your child’s gut bacteria, which will benefit their long-term immunity.
The best way to ensure that fruit and vegetables become the ‘norm’ in a child’s diet is to make sure that they are present at every single meal for all people involved. If they are to be accepted they must be well-known, they must be part of the regular routine and a great way to ensure they meet the requirements is to educate them on the benefits of eating them. E.g. growing bigger and stronger, being able to learn better at school, being better at sports. having more energy to play with their friends, preventing them from getting sick, etc.
Bottom Line: The guidelines featured in the five-a-day concept do work, however as a parent and someone extremely keen on making sure our whole family get the best nutrition possible, I personally treat it as a minimum requirement and try to add as many different fruits, vegetables and variety of greens each and every day into our diet. More than five per day is absolutely OK!
Online diploma course in Child & Adolescent Nutrition
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences our Child & Adolescent Nutrition course provides an in-depth introduction to the theory behind child nutrition, covering the nutrient needs throughout childhood (from newborn to adolescents up to the age of 19 years) and offering practical advice on food preparation, maintaining a healthy weight and encouraging physical activity.
If you are interested in general nutrition we offer seven other nutrition-based courses, all leading to a diploma on successful completion of coursework
- Ethical & Sustainable Eating
- Clinical Nutrition
- Advanced Nutrition
- Nutrition for Age 50 Plus
- Plant-Based Nutrition
- Sport & Exercise Nutrition
- Vegetarian & Vegan Nutrition