Eat Beat

Pyramid Schemes
Most kids don’t eat enough fruit, veggies and dairy.
With some clever tricks, you can make healthy foods more attractive.

by Althea Zanecosky

After two years of being confined largely to the Internet, the new U.S. Depart-ment of Agriculture (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid is headed to supermarkets.

This guide for healthy eating will be promoted in 2,000 stores in 17 states, reaching millions of grocery shoppers. However, and this may come as no surprise to parents, a recent study shows that the older children get, the more likely they are to ignore dietary guidelines like the Food Guide Pyramid.

Research from the American Dietetic Association and USDA shows that children ages 2 to 3 were much more likely to have well-balanced diets reflecting national dietary recommendations than those ages 4 to 8. The problem seemed to be with 3 groups of foods: fruits, vegetables and dairy.

Although older children eat more food than younger ones, the number of fruit servings they eat actually decreases with age. Servings of deep-yellow vegetables and dark-green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli failed to increase with age. The USDA found that milk consumption decreases with age and soft drink intake increases from early childhood into adulthood.

These findings reflect a common tendency among school-age children to abandon healthier eating habits as they become more independent and have more freedom to choose their own snack foods.

Recommended Amounts
The USDA guide below divides foods into several groups and recommends the number of servings from them as children get older and their daily calorie needs increase. Use the table below as a guide for how much of fruits, veggies, and dairy to aim for.

2-3 years
4-8 years
4-8 years
Total daily calories
Vegetables (cups/week)
Dark green (cups/week)
Deep yellow (cups/week)
Fruits (cups/week)
Milk (servings/day)
Small increases in the amount of fruits, vegetables, and dairy that children eat — as little as a serving a day — could lead to substantial improvements in the quality of children’s diets. Here are ideas for how to get your children to eat more of those foods.

Apple Appeal
New research has found that cookie lovers seem more likely to eat apples and other fruits than salty snacks. A group at Cornell University looked at the eating habits of thousands of people and concluded the craving for something sweet spans both candy and fruit.

The study, published in the journal Appetite, found people who eat candy, cakes and other sweet snacks eat more fruit than people who prefer salty snacks like nuts and chips. This finding might be useful for parents in encouraging their kids to eat more fruit.

Once upon a time fruit played second fiddle in the meat-centered American diet. These days it’s a nutritional super-star. The vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protective materials called phytochemicals found in fruits help kids grow properly and can help us all live longer and healthier lives. Fruits help keep hunger and calories in check and top the list of foods that reduce cancer and heart disease risk.

The USDA Food Guide Pyramid offers many helpful tips to add fruit to your child’s diet:

Set a good example for children by eating fruit everyday with meals or as snacks.

Offer children a choice of fruits for lunch.

Depending on their age, children can help shop for, clean, peel or cut-up fruits. While shopping, allow children to pick out a new fruit to try later at home.

Decorate plates or serving dishes with fruit slices.

Top off a bowl of cereal with berries. Or make a smiley face with sliced bananas for eyes, a raisin nose, and an orange slice mouth.

Offer raisins or other dried fruits instead of candy.

Make fruit kabobs using pineapple chunks, bananas, grapes and berries.

Pack a juice box (100 percent juice) in children’s lunches instead of soda or other sugary beverages.

Choose fruit options, such as sliced apples, mixed fruit cup or 100 percent fruit juice that are available in some fast food restaurants.

Offer fruit pieces and 100 percent fruit juice to children. There is often little fruit in “fruit-flavored” beverages or chewy fruit snacks.

Eat Your Veggies
Unfortunately, many parents have a very hard time getting their kids to eat vegetables on a regular basis. Most pediatric health experts recommend starting early by offering your older infant and toddler a large variety of fruits and vegetables. It can also help to:

Set a good example by eating vegetables yourself.

Offer low-fat salad dressing and other dips for vegetables.

Mix in vegetables with foods that your child already likes, such as a topping on pizza, or in spaghetti sauce, a casserole or soup.

Let your kids grow their own vegetables or visit a farmer’s market to buy fresh vegetables. Then get the the kids into the kitchen. Even young children can tear lettuce, husk corn, shell peas or wash produce. Older kids can operate the salad spinner.

Try an “appetizer” such as a tossed salad or raw veggies to munch on as you finish fixing the main meal. A caution: a new, unfamiliar vegetable can frustrate a hungry child.

Make family mealtime a priority in your home. Research from Harvard Medical School has found that children consume more vegetables, fruit and dairy when they eat along with their parents.

Let them dunk. Offer baby carrots, cucumber circles, cherry tomatoes and pepper strips to dip into salsa, hummus, low-fat dressing, homemade yogurt dip or guacamole.

Offer a lot of choices, provide small servings at first, and keep in mind that some picky eaters won’t try a new vegetable until they see it on their plate 10 or more times.

• Mix it up and introduce the same vegetable in different ways. Shape can make a big difference to little kids. Your child might not like carrot sticks, but she’d love carrot coins. Maybe she’d prefer straight-cut green beans to French-cut ones.

Throw a barbecue. Grilled vegetable kabobs can be as fun to make as they are to eat. Try serving tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, green peppers, and onions on a stick.

Take him shopping. Cruise the produce aisle with your child and look at different fruits and veggies. Let him pick something new for the family to try; kids love to see their choices become part of the meal.

Milk Matters
Babies are breast- or bottle-fed, then weaned to a cup. Some kids continue to enjoy milk, but others need creative ways to get up to the 3 servings recommended. Try these ideas:

Go chocolate, orange, banana or strawberry. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children who drink flavored milk are more likely to meet the calcium requirements than their peers, and no more likely to have greater sugar or fat intake.

Have a purple cow. Stir 1/4 cup purple grape juice into 1 cup of milk.

Prepare oatmeal and powdered hot chocolate with milk, not water.

When heating up a can of cream-based soup, substitute milk for water.

Look for instant mac and cheese that calls for added milk. Or make your own.

Other calcium-rich, healthy foods include lowfat yogurt, cheese and ice cream, as well as fish and shellfish, broccoli, oranges and almonds.

For more ideas on ways to include fruit, veggies, and dairy in your family’s diet, visit pyramid/index.html

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.