Long term benefits of a healthy diet for toddlers
Research suggests that children who keep eating their veggies by age seven are leaner with healthier diets.
Encouraging toddlers to eat fruit and vegetables can be a painful process. Babies and toddlers develop a staggering array of ways to say no. Science has yet to solve this issue and offer parents an easy solution. The benefits, however, are realised many years later with a healthier diet and healthier child.
To understand the benefits of early fruit and vegetable intake, a study tracked the health and wellbeing of children between 30 months and seven years of age.
Toddlers at 30 months ate far more fruits and vegetables, generally eating up to seven different types each day. However this soon changed and by seven years the average amount was closer to just two serves of both fruit and vegetables.
The difference between children was that those who generally had more fruit and vegetables at 30 months continued to eat more at seven years of age.
The difference was only small, with these children only averaging just two extra serves per day. Having just over four serves of either fruit or vegetables as a seven year old was associated with a lower body weight and less body fat as measured by a skinfold test.
Persisting with getting young children to eat fruits and vegetables is no easy matter for parents. All children are ‘fussy’ to varying degrees. It’s an important stage of life with children learning to feed themselves and take control of this important aspect of their lives.
Children also have strong aversion to bitter flavours and some textures. A toddler will avoid some vegetables that are normally cooked, like broccoli, instead they may be happy to try it when it’s offered raw.
The other problem is that the main meal of the day often comes when children are either overly tired or hyped. It’s never going to be the best time of day to convince a toddler to eat vegetables.
At other times of the day considerable culinary creativity (shapes, textures) and having the child engaged in the preparation (choosing, placing on plate) may all increase likelihood of consumption.
For all parents of young children, a healthy dose of persistence and patience is required, because eventually all children grow up.
Last Reviewed: 21/09/2019
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.
Fletcher S et al. Tracking of toddler fruit and vegetable preferences to intake and adiposity later in childhood. Maternal and Child Nutrition Epub online April 4, 2016. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12290.