Getting children to eat more fruit and veggies

September 24, 1997|By Maria Hiaasen | Maria Hiaasen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Your kids don't eat enough vegetables? Join the club. A U.S. Department of Agriculture survey shows the average child aged 2 to 18 falls short of the recommended five fruits and vegetables a day and actually eats about three daily. The survey also shows that on a given day, half of all elementary-school kids don't eat any fruit at all.

"That's pretty shocking, and it really is a call to action," says Gloria Stables, director of the National Cancer Institute's Five-A-Day-for-Better-Health Program.

Hence, the group has made September "National Five-A-Day Month" and blanketed children with the message that fruits and veggies are cool.

Not that they've given up on the grown-ups, but officials at the Cancer Institute want kiwi and carrots on your kids' radar screens. Let's face it, some parents' diets aren't all that great, and they're not providing healthy snacks, says Stables. But, she adds, if kids ask their parents to buy them fruits and vegetables, they'll probably do it.

Working with food producers and distributors, the Cancer Institute is talking up the properties of produce where kids are most apt to pay attention -- at school, in the curricula and during afterschool programs, on TV networks, and on the Internet.

The Dole Food Co. is leading this blitz as part of its year-round effort to turn kids on to healthful foods. Dole, which has marketed "5-a-Day Adventures," an interactive CD ROM about fruits and vegetables, since 1993, has also operated a five-a-day Web site ( since 1995. Both are routinely updated with new nutritional information. The CD ROM is supplied free to schools upon request.

One feature this month is the Web site's online challenge, which analyzes benefits and shortcomings of children's fruit and vegetable intake. My third-grade son revealed this factoid by clicking Barney Broccoli on the Dole website: Broccoli, American kids' fourth favorite veggie, is 900 percent more popular today than it was 20 years ago. After signing off, he was inspired to chart his fruit and vegetable consumption for four days.

Technology is tops for conveying the five-a-day message to families, says Lorelei DiSogra, Dole's director of nutrition and health, who developed the company's Web site and CD ROM.

"It's simple," DiSogra says. "We're hoping kids at home will pull their parents over to their computer screens."

DiSogra predicts children will steer their parents toward fruits and vegetables just as they steered them away from smoking 15 years ago and toward recycling a decade ago. She shoots down any skepticism with personal anecdotes. During after-school taste tests, she's seen kids go nuts over fresh pineapple and packs of prunes. During a salad bar taste test in Minnesota, she says, the average kid ate six servings.

"I know it's possible for kids to eat fruits and vegetables," DiSogra says. "Just make them available in a fun environment with no pressure."

Pub Date: 9/24/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.