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Busy Families and the Five-a-Day Dilemma

Updated on June 7, 2011

A few years ago, the teacher of my daughter’s weekly class sent home a five-a-day fruits and vegetables chart. She asked parents to keep track of their children’s consumption of these important foods. No problem! I thought. Our chart will be exemplary!

That was Monday. By Thursday I could see I was mistaken. Deluded, even. Our chart looked like this:

Three apple slices with peanut butter
Four grapes
Do French fries count?
Two bites of broccoli
Spaghetti sauce
Our sad five-a-day chart

Most parents recognize the importance of fruits and vegetables in their children’s diet. Incorporating them, though, is difficult, as families dash around town on a breathless circuit of work, school, sports activities, and more. I wonder how many parents are in denial, as I was, about the quality of their child’s diet.

The family diet revolution is never easy. I’ve had several strikes against me. I honestly dislike veggies. I was raised in England, where you eat the dinner solely to get to the dessert. Further, my teeth are sensitive to cold fruits, so I tend to avoid them. I knew that I would pass this tendency on to my children unless I took intentional action.

On the upside, we are blessed to live in the salad bowl of America – California. Fruit stands, loaded with fresh picked produce, wait on many of our local routes. The state’s health consciousness is high, resulting in locally grown organic produce that is available from health-oriented markets. When my children and I have ventured out of state, we’ve realized how blessed we are to have access to this wide variety of fresh produce at home.

If you live in an area without abundant produce, I encourage you to use whatever you can find. Even consider growing your own vegetables. You may also want to look into a quality multivitamin, which is important no matter how abundant your produce supply.

When my children were very young, we had a hard-and-fast vegetable rule. The kids absolutely had to eat their veggies if they wanted any treats later. (“Treats” doesn’t have to mean sweets. They can be trips to the park, movies, etc.) This helped form a good habit and certainly made my job easier in the later years. However, as I realized when we filled out my girl’s chart, we had gotten seriously off course with the five-a-day plan! As a single mom, I had been just too busy to pay much attention.

Our diet revolution began in earnest with a visit to a qualified nutritionist. Of course, she emphasized the importance of fruits and vegetables. She also advised eliminating sugar, and we found our taste for vegetables improving as a result. She even suggested eating vegetables for breakfast. (I’ve yet to follow that advise!)

As I worked to add more color to our plates, I had a sort of epiphany: Not all vegetables are green! I had been stuck on green leafy vegetables. Everything I read seemed to emphasize these. Because I disliked vegetables, I thought I might as well fill our quota with the heavy weights. I hadn’t given much consequence to carrots, bell peppers, celery, jicama, and other non-green varieties. Finding qualified candidates for the five-a-day challenge forced me to look beyond my small-minded definition of a vegetable. Soon I was happily chopping up celery and stirring blueberries into the oatmeal, pleased as punch to know these choices counted.

Eventually, my new ideas coalesced into a five-a-day formula, which I’d like to share with you. Here’s how we get our five-a-day:

An attractive plate of raw veggies placed in a high traffic area will quickly disappear!
An attractive plate of raw veggies placed in a high traffic area will quickly disappear!

Our Five-a-Day Strategy

Breakfast: One or two fruits. Slice a banana onto pancakes. Stir blueberries into oatmeal. Make a fruit smoothie (no sugar!).

Mid-morning snack: Fruit with protein, such as apple with peanut butter, nuts and raisins, etc.

Lunch: One vegetable. If we’re home, I’ll cook carrots, broccoli, etc. If we’re out, I’ll add a raw veggie to our lunches (celery, carrots, etc.).

Mid-afternoon snack: Place a dish of raw veggies in plain view! Try sugar snap peas, carrots and celery, jicama, and bell peppers. Have peanut butter available for dip. To save time, buy prewashed, precut veggies. Or, have a weekend veggie washing/cutting party with your kids, preparing the week’s vegetables in one session.

Dinner: One or two veggies alongside a protein. I buy a large bag of prewashed broccoli from Costco. This is a real time saver!

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

Finally, did you know that the Environmental Working Group published two lists to help us decide when to buy organic? I carry these lists in my purse and refer to them when shopping. The first is the “Dirty Dozen” list. Items on this list will expose you to a cocktail of toxins, so always choose organic. Here’s the list:

· celery

· peaches

· strawberries

· apples

· domestic blueberries

· nectarines

· sweet bell peppers

· spinach, kale and collard greens

· cherries

· potatoes

· imported grapes

· lettuce

The second list is the “Clean 15.” These fruits and vegetables bear very little pesticide residue. They are:

· onions

· avocados

· sweet corn

· pineapples

· mango

· sweet peas

· asparagus

· kiwi fruit

· cabbage

· eggplant

· cantaloupe

· watermelon

· grapefruit

· sweet potatoes

· sweet onions

It’s great to know that with a little forethought, we can give our kids a lifetime habit of healthy eating. I hope that my simple formula is helpful. Happy crunching!


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    • graceomalley profile image

      graceomalley 6 years ago

      Awesome hub! This is great information. I think an awful lot of us think we are doing great until writing it down. Interesting how a dish of anything decent in a high traffic area disappears. Beats nagging by a mile.