FACT: 90% of people could have better diets by eating more fruits and veggies.
SAD FACT: Only about 10% of consumers meet recommended intakes of fruits and veggies, according to a recent analysis.

Kids Fail Fruits & Vegetables

                         Photo: iStock.com

A 2023 report from the CDC found that, on any given day 3 in 10 kids don’t eat ANY fruit or even juice! And 1 in 2 ate NO vegetables!

No surprise to me. I’ve taken thousands of dietary records from kids and adults in my 35+ years working with families. Typical report: “I always put a cut up banana on his cereal.” How often does he have cereal? “That’s on Saturday mornings.” Ow. 

Why Such Low Consumption?!

It’s complicated, as there are many factors. Common ones:

Perceived dislike. This can be a power struggle or just that kids see too many salty or sweet snacks on kitchen counters. This sucks interest from those veggies & fruits in the fridge.

Parents’ eating history. If parents didn’t grow up eating fruits and veggies, they may not like them, but kids don’t eat better diets than their parents. This is an opportunity to reset the FAMILY’s eating habits. 

Skill/work involved. Early, frequent (as in REPEATED) childhood exposure leads to more acceptance.

Cost: Produce is perishable stuff, and no one wants to spend money on food that spoils before its eaten. There are ways around this, though. (Check the pro-tip below.)

When kids refuse fruits and veggies, it’s usually in favor of less nutritious snacks. The CDC report found that nearly 6 in 10 kids (57% to be precise) drank a sugary drink on any given day.

One Solution: “Angry” Kids?!

At the New York Produce Show, I was introduced to a program in the UK, called “VegPower”, that’s taking a radical approach to get kids eating more veggies – and it’s working. Their campaign is called “Eat Them To Defeat Them!” It turns (playfully) “angry” kids into motivated kids – motivated to eat veggies!

This sounded nuts. But VegPower had evidence, and the evidence changed my mind. Read on.

VegPower doesn’t discourage kids’ feelings about veggies – they don’t tell kids “eat your veggies because they’re good.” Rather, they leaned into kids’ veggie-averse attitudes. Their campaign “confirmed what [kids] suspected all along: that vegetables were really evil.” Then they take the next step: those “bad guys” must be destroyed – by chomping them down.

It’s an edgy, risky tact, and VegPower didn’t do it alone. They assembled a coalition of 11 major supermarkets, 8 media outlets, 100+ influencers (including celebrities), 1000 primary schools. Also involved was the UK’s largest veggie brand, Birds Eye. Yes, the latter has a commercial interest, but we’re talking veggies here – they SHOULD be onboard!

             Photo: iStock.com

“Drop-the-mic” Results

Parents love it. Among parents familiar with the VegPower campaign:

77% said: the program made it easier to get their kids TRYING new vegetables (up from 63% in 2022)

76% said: the program made it easier to get their kids EATING more vegetables.

Among parents of “selective” (think “picky”) eaters: 66% said their kids have eaten more veggies as a result of this program.

Schools went for it, big time. Adoption of VegPower began with 1000 schools in 2019. Now 3850 schools have VegPower!

Why “Eat ‘Em To Defeat ‘Em” Works

VegPower cites 4 reasons (I agree with all 4):

Engages kids. They like to eat what they are familiar with, what they pick up and hold often, what they have a hand in preparing, what they have fun working with.

Teaches parents how to leverage kids positive eating habits, remove the power struggles over eating, and make preparing preferred fruits and vegetables easier and economical.

Emphasis on baby steps – for kids AND parents. Progress has to be incremental, not monumental. These are fruits and veggies for a lifetime. Start where your child is and just build from there. Slow is OK. Just be consistent.

Expert input from nutrition and child psychology professionals. Yes!

Photo: iStock.com

According to Dan Power, CEO of VegPower.org, the “Eat ‘Em to Defeat ‘Em” campaign is too much for parents to undertake on their own. But VegPower has plenty of FREE materials for parents, teachers, and schools. This link is your entry point.  I especially love the “Serving for Success” page, where child psychologist, Dr. Clare Holley, discusses her “3Rs”:
Role modeling: Eat the way you want your kids to eat. I’ve often said: don’t expect kids to eat better than their parents.

Rewarding: It’s OK – just not with food!

Re-offering: Repetition, repetition, repetition. 

It may take a dozen or exposures before a child is comfortable actually tasting a food. The younger you start offering and role modeling, the better.  Dr. Holley’s strategies aren’t “new”, but she’s still spot-on.
Pro-tip: Fresh is great, but so are frozen & canned veggies! Personal faves: frozen peas & canned garbanzo beans. Each is perfect for kids to pick up & eat “one-at-a-time”.
Cut-To-The-Chase Nutrition Take-Away

Kids home for summer or holidays?  Use materials from VegPower to change your child’s’ (and your own!) attitude about veggies AND fruits.  Everyone can win here. #haveaplant — with your kids! 

All images: iStock