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From the Mouths of Tweens: Kids Enjoy Fruits and Vegetables

Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released findings from their fruit and vegetable intake study, showing that children’s whole fruit intake has increased by 67 percent from 2003-2010.  Vegetables didn’t fare as well; the study also found that nine out of 10 children didn’t eat enough vegetables from 2007-2010.

These data are especially timely, given that there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not kids like eating their fruits and vegetables, especially at school. Many schools, especially those enrolled in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, are exploring ways to ensure students are eating the fruits and vegetables being served, and not feeding the trashcans.

I decided to go straight to the source—kids—to hear what they have to say about eating healthy foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables.

Reagan Spomer, age 9, of Pierre, South Dakota said, “[Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains] are important because they provide your body a lot of vitamins and minerals that are needed to grow and be healthy. When I did a survey, kids in my school voiced that they really liked the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables and were more willing to eat them over other items.”

And Bobby Sena, age 11, of Orlando, Florida shared, “Eating healthy choices became a great learning experience at school because I learned about new vegetables and new fruits such as dragon fruits and star fruits. I also learned about new vegetables and I really did like it!”

Working with schools across the country, I see the innovative tactics they employ to increase the number of fruits and vegetables in their students’ diets—and now data show that some of those tactics are working! Here are some tips that can help your school be successful, too:

  • Hold cafeteria and/or classroom taste tests to meet student food preferences exactly where they are.
  • Introduce new fruits as a “garnish” to create excitement and variety. For example, try a slice of kiwi or star fruit on top of a mixed fruit cup.
  • Display fruits and vegetables in the front of a serving line in a decorative bowl or dish, like kids might find at a restaurant.
  • Consider serving fruit slices versus whole fruit. It has been shown that kids prefer to eat fruit sliced rather than whole pieces to bite into.
  • Offer fresh vegetables like carrots, grape tomatoes, and celery or cucumber “sticks” as a crudité cup with low fat dressing as a dip.
  • If your school can swing it, try growing vegetables in your own school garden to teach kids about where their food comes from.
  • Finally, recruit student assistance to implement some basic marketing techniques to market healthy choices through student-led poster campaigns, bulletin boards, or morning news programs at school.

Enlist some creativity to boost fruit and vegetable consumption in your cafeteria and then share your ideas so we can spread the word about what’s working!

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