5-A-Day Challenge For Kids

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 - 10:44am

By Erica Lesperance, RD, LD

In a nutritionally perfect world, kids would snack on carrot sticks, crunch on celery and crave cauliflower. Unfortunately, they are bombarded with media messages about how cool it is to pop Pringles and fill up on French fries. Obsession with these high fat, nutritionally poor foods has played a large role in creating a generation of children (the first ever) who have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. To fight this trend, several concerned organizations have issued a challenge to our children to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables. It is called the “5-A-Day Challenge,” and it urges kids to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables (three vegetables, two fruits) daily. Since its original creation in 1988, the national 5-A-Day Program has evolved into a partnership of health-oriented government agencies, businesses and non-profit organizations that are dedicated to changing attitudes toward fruits and vegetables.

Why 5 fruits and vegetables a day?

Five is an attainable goal and a number to which most kids can count. Five is also a lot more than most kids are getting. American kids typically eat about two fruits and/or vegetables per day, and more than half of their vegetable intake is potatoes or tomatoes. A growing body of research shows that this low intake, if continued into adulthood, will not promote good health. Compared with people who consume a diet with only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts as part of a healthful diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases including stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers. However, if children are not challenged to eat more vegetables now, they may not choose to eat them in the future either.

Fruit or vegetable: is one better than the other?

Fruits and vegetables are two distinct food groups in the pyramid, but they provide many of the same nutrients. Vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and dietary fiber are some of the key nutrients found in a variety of both fruits and vegetables. For example, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe have similar nutrients, even though one is a vegetable and the other is a fruit. Therefore, to simplify the 5-A-Day Challenge, the two food groups are combined.

Is the color of the fruit and vegetable important?

The different colors of fruits and vegetables are indicators of the type of health-promoting and disease-fighting nutrients they contain. Following are the colors that pack the most impressive nutritional punch, along with some examples of fruits and vegetables to try from each category.

Blue/purple fruit and vegetables

Blueberries, blackberries, purple cabbage, eggplant, plums (fresh and dried), raisins

Green fruit and vegetables

Green apples, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, peas, romaine lettuce, spinach, pears, green grapes, zucchini

Orange/yellow fruit and vegetables

Butternut squash, pumpkin, oranges, peaches, mangoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, corn, pineapples, cantaloupe

White fruit and vegetables

Onions, garlic, cauliflower, ginger, jicama, potatoes, bananas, white peaches

Red fruit and vegetables

Red apples, pomegranate, strawberries, watermelon, tomatoes, red onions, rhubarb, beets, radishes, cranberries, cherries

Jump on the 5-A-Day bandwagon and make it fun and interactive for your children

Take advantage of the nationwide 5-A-Day Challenge by getting your own children involved. Entice them to follow the 5-A-Day Challenge by making it fun and interactive. Urge them to create a rainbow on their plates by choosing fruits and vegetables from the color categories above. Make a color wheel, allowing them to spin the wheel and choose a fruit or vegetable from the color group the pointer lands on. Take them to the store and let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try. For a multitude of resources and activities to get children excited about fruits and vegetables, visit www.5aday.org.* A healthy future is just a few fruits and vegetables away.

*Information on the 5-A-Day Program obtained from www.5aday.org