Originally posted here by Heather Garza, clinical dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital

Put your best fork forward this National Nutrition Month by exploring a variety of fruits and vegetables with your family! Surprisingly, about 90 percent of Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Let’s work together to improve that statistic and start benefiting from the most colorful foods on our plate.

Reasons to eat fruits and vegetables:

Fruits and vegetables have many health benefits and are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. They are filled with lots of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals which keep the immune system strong and protects against illnesses. In addition, fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber which aids in maintaining a healthy weight. Higher intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

How to shop for fruits and vegetables:

Choose fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season as they are full of flavor and low in price.  For time savers, select precut, prewashed or frozen options for fast preparation and cooking.  Canned options make for simple side dishes or can be easily incorporated into soups, pastas and grains such as rice or quinoa. Remember, if choosing canned varieties, select fruits labeled “packed in fruit juice” or “unsweetened/no sugar added.” For canned vegetables, look for ones marked “low/reduced sodium” or “no salt added.”

Help your children eat fruits and vegetables:

Many parents struggle daily with getting their children to eat fruits and vegetables. Try these tips for increasing your child’s intake.

  • Start early! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing a variety of fruits and vegetables as early as six months of age.
  • Never give up! Many children will need to be offered a food 10-15 times over several months before acceptance occurs.
  • Model it! Children are great at learning from our actions. Show them what to eat by eating fruits and vegetables in front of them.
  • Name it! Call spinach “super power leaves” instead of a vegetable. Fun names can create excitement for food.
  • Play with it! Create fun food art with your children. Fruits and vegetables are more fun to eat as flowers or caterpillars.
  • Grow it! Kids love getting their hands dirty. Have fun planting different vegetables, watching them grow, harvesting when ripe and cooking them into a meal.
  • Explore it! Take a field trip to a farm or farmer’s market. The more your child learns about fruits and vegetables, the less hesitation they will have when it comes to trying them.
  • Cook it! Sign up for a family cooking class or include them in the process of preparing/cooking a meal.  Have them wash, stir or measure foods. Children become more invested in the meal if they helped make it.
  • Empower them! Give your child the job of selecting a new fruit or vegetable or recipe to try. Making your child feel they have a choice in the foods they eat increases their confidence in eating.

Remember that fruits and vegetables should be a part of everyday life if we want to benefit from them. Make the commitment and work hard towards filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Before you know it, you will no longer be a statistic, and your plate will be more colorful than you have ever imagined.