Tips to get your little ones enjoying their five-a-day from Birds Eye

family eating dinner

Every day we are bombarded with messages about the importance of our children having a balanced diet. But what do you do, if your little one hates fruit and veg? How can you get them to eat the good stuff without sending them (or yourself) into a mealtime meltdown? We asked Birds Eye's nutritionist Lauren Woodley to help make mealtime easier by answering some questions from Mumsnetters.

Fruit and veg tips

Q: My 15-month-old HATES vegetables, when I say hate, I mean really hate. He eats plenty of fruit but can sniff a vegetable a mile off. How can I get veggie goodness into his diet?

fun food

The trick to getting your little one to enjoy some veggie goodness might involve getting a bit creative, by hiding vegetables or making them more attractive. Grated beetroot, carrots and even courgette can be hidden in cakes and bakes (providing moisture, flavour and nutrients), while pureed vegetables can be incorporated into pasta sauces, fish cakes, burgers, croquettes and even homemade pizza base sauce.

You could also try making veggies more fun by creating smiley faces with carrot sticks, tomatoes and cucumbers or use them to make some yummy treats like courgette fries, a delicious alternative to normal potato fries.

Q: My nine-year-old DD eats the same types of fruit and veg every day. I'm sure that a bit more variety would be helpful, but does it still count as five-a-day if it's the same five-a-day?

To reassure you, even if your DD is eating the same varieties of fruit and veg every day, these definitely still count towards her five-a-day. She will still be getting her vitamins, minerals and some fibre and although it might be more interesting to eat a wider range of fruit and vegetables, eating the same types is better than not eating any at all.
As a reminder, one 'portion' counts as 80g of of fresh, canned and/or frozen fruit and vegetables, 30g of dried fruit, 150ml of fruit/vegetable juice or smoothie (only one per day), or 80g of beans and pulses (again, only one portion per day). So you never know, your DD may be consuming even more than her five-a-day!

There are so many different types of food that can be counted towards your five-a-day that you can try to sneak in some more variety to your DD's diet. Why not try adding beans and pulses to your bolognese, sprinkling dried fruit over breakfast cereal or adding a handful of frozen veg to a portion of soup. girl smelling tomato

Q: So many children seem to eat tomato ketchup with their food and I have seen some of my friends' kids only eat vegetables if they are covered in it. Does all the artificial colouring, sugar etc in the sauce cancel out the nutritional benefits of the veggies or is it better for them to eat them with it than not at all?

My advice is that it's always better to get veggies into kids' diets somehow, even if it does require a ketchup accompaniment! Thankfully, combining other foods with vegetables doesn't cancel out the nutritional benefits. So, if topping veggies with ketchup means that children eat a wider variety, then this can only be a good thing. However, I would recommend buying ketchup with reduced salt and sugar levels as well as limiting the serving to one tablespoon of ketchup. This will help keep their intake of added salts and sugars to a minimum.

Balanced diet
healthy food balance

Q: What do you recommend serving with pasta – my DC's favourite – to create a more balanced healthy meal?

A balanced main meal should always contain three key elements: a starchy carbohydrate, vegetables and a source of protein. The good news is that pasta is a great starchy carbohydrate and if you can persuade your DC to eat wholegrain versions, that’s even better! Some examples of tasty balanced pasta dishes include:
- A Mediterranean-style pasta bake with tinned tuna or salmon and a chunky tomato and Mediterranean vegetable (eg. courgette, onion, aubergine) sauce, topped with some feta cheese
- Spaghetti with lentil or Quorn veggie bolognese. Add some diced onions, carrots, swede, tomatoes and any other veggies into the sauce
- Creamy chicken pasta with sliced chicken (breast, grills or even breaded chicken) on a bed of pasta along with a reduced fat creme fraiche, wholegrain mustard, and green veggies such as peas, spinach and broccoli florets

Q: If you feed your child nutritionally balanced meals for the majority of the time, is there any harm in giving them treats such as chocolate and crisps occasionally? crisps

Good question! Last year, the UK government released their revised healthy eating advice – The Eatwell Guide – which explains the amounts and types of foods we should be eating as part of a balanced diet. This guide includes advice about foods which are high in fat, salt and sugars (such as crisps, chocolate and full-sugar soft drinks). Ideally these foods should be eaten less often and in small amounts.

So, yes! The occasional treat is absolutely fine from a nutritional point of view if your child otherwise enjoys a balanced diet. The odd treat also helps to teach kids that a balanced diet needn't mean restricting foods completely.

Q: How can I explain the importance of a balanced diet in a way that will make my 10-year-old DD want to have a balanced diet?

In my opinion, the best way to explain the importance of a balanced diet to your DD is to explain what it can enable children to do. For example, it gives them energy to play, take part in sports and enjoy their free time after school. It also helps to fuel their brains, making it easier to understand and enjoy school and helps to keep their bodies healthy. Given your daughter is 10, she may well also be becoming more self-aware and conscious. Therefore, you can also explain how a balanced diet will help her maintain a healthy weight and keep her skin, hair and nails in top condition.

A useful analogy I've used with younger children to explain the importance of a balanced diet is that of a car. To keep a car working properly it needs fuel (the energy food gives us), water (proper hydration), its parts in tip top condition (eating enough proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals), and for its systems to work effectively (vitamins and minerals are the 'managers' of our bodies). This helps them understand why a balanced diet is so important.

Q: When is sugar bad and when is it not? For instance dried fruit has lots of sugar, no-added sugar normally means sweeteners instead and what’s better low sugar or full sugar varieties? It's so confusing! girl eating choc

There are so many stories about sugar in the media nowadays, that I really can understand your confusion. Put simply, the 'best' sugars are those which aren't 'free sugars'. Free sugars are basically 'added sugars'. These are any sugars added to food and drink by a food manufacturer, cook or consumer.

'Free sugars' also refer to the sugars which are naturally present in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit juices. Some foods that are higher in free sugars are confectionery items such as sweets and chocolates, sweet baked goods and some pasta sauces. A high sugar intake can cause dental problems and generally increases overall calorie intake. Unfortunately, foods high in free sugars are normally quite tasty and it's easy to eat a lot of them!

So, the sugars found in milk products (lactose) and whole fruits and vegetables are the 'best' types of sugars. In answer to your specific query, a 150ml portion of unsweetened fruit juice counts as one of your 5-a-day. The problem is it still contains free sugars. I'd advise giving your children whole fruit instead and give sugar-free fruit squash as a treat. Dried fruits are very sweet but don't contain free sugars. A 30g portion counts as one of your 5-a-day, so it’s fine to give your kids a small handful of dried fruit.

Q: Can frozen food be as healthy as the fresh version? Frozen products are so convenient and it reduces waste but I worry that they're not as healthy and have less nutrients.

Yes, frozen food is just as good nutritionally as fresh food! Frozen fruits and vegetables count towards your 5-a-day (80g of fresh or frozen equals one portion), frozen poultry and red meat are just the same as their fresh equivalents, and frozen fish counts towards your two portions per week. Frozen foods are definitely very convenient and potentially reduce food waste, so are a great option to feed your family with.

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