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Encouraging Healthy Habits Part 2: Fruits and Vegetables

This weeks blog, part 2 of our 4 part series, will provide you with information and guidance on how to include a variety of fruits and vegetables both across your early years menu and at family mealtimes.

Current UK guidance on fruits and vegetables

In the UK, adults and children over the age of one should aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day. That’s five portions of fruit and vegetables in total, not five portions of each.

When it comes to children, the amount they should eat depends on their size and age. As a rough guide however, one portion is the amount they can fit in the palm of their hand.

An adult sized portion is 80g of fruit or vegetables or 30g of dried fruit.

Benefits of eating Fruit and Vegetables?

Fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, zinc and iron. They’re also an excellent sources of dietary fibre, which can help us to maintain healthy digestion and prevent constipation. Fruits and vegetables taste delicious with a huge variety to choose from, health benefits from eating them include, reducing our risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.!

Which fruits and vegetables should we offer children?

As shown on the Eatwell Guide, there’s a huge variety of fruits and vegetables. These include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned fruits in juice with no added sugar
  • Canned vegetables in water with no added salt or sugar
  • Dried fruit (Dried fruit should only be eaten at mealtimes, not as a between-meal snack, due to the risk of tooth decay)

Some types of fruits and vegetables only count once in a day:

  • Pulses, such as beans and lentils, can be served as a vegetable alongside meat, fish or a meat alternative. These only count once as part of the 5 A Day recommendation. This is because, although they are a good source of fibre, they contain fewer nutrients than other fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies to no more than 150ml a day. Crushing fruit and vegetables into juice and smoothies releases the sugars contained in the fruit and vegetables, which can cause damage to teeth.

Please note: as stated in the Eat Better Start Better Guidelines (EBSB), early years settings should not serve fruit juice, only milk and water. If families offer fruit juice and/or smoothies at home, they should be encouraged to dilute them 1:10 with water and serve them only at a mealtime; not at snack time or between meals due to the risk of tooth decay.

For more information visit NHS Choices

How to include fruits and vegetables in your early years menu?

The Eat Better Start Better (EBSB) food and drink guidelines encourage your setting to:

  • Provide a portion of vegetable and/or fruit at each meal and with some snacks
  • Provide a variety of vegetables and fruits, aiming to offer at least four different types during full day care, and two different types during sessional care
  • Provide dried fruit at meal times only rather than as a snack, as it contains sugars that can stick to and may damage children’s teeth
  • Avoid fruit juice (even diluted fruit juice). Fruit juice (including fruit juice from concentrate) provides nutrients such as vitamin C but it also contains large amounts of fruit sugar (fructose), and is acidic. Fruit sugar and acid can cause tooth decay in children.

The EBSB guidelines also encourage settings to:

  • Choose canned vegetables and pulses without added salt and sugar.
  • Choose fruit canned in natural juice without added sugar or syrup.
  • Provide fruit canned in natural juice at mealtimes only.
  • Choose reduced salt and sugar baked beans. Baked beans can only count as a vegetable once each week.

Top tips for preparing and cooking fruits and vegetables:

  • Cut up fruit and vegetables just before you serve or cook them to minimise the vitamins lost.
  • Avoid overcooking vegetables, as this will reduce their vitamin content.

Example of how the above guidelines would look in an early years menu:

Public Health England has produced example menus and useful guidance for early years settings to help support you in meeting the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements for food and drink. We have reviewed one of the example menus below to highlight the inclusion of fruit and vegetables and how it meets the Eat Better Start Better guidelines:

Example Menu

Additional Resources:

Early Start Nutrition Team

  • If you would like additional information and support on making your settings menu in-line with the EBSB guidelines book our in-house or online Menu Planning Training.

First Steps Nutrition Trust- Good Food Choices and Portion Sizes

Food example

By Georgia Leech

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