Does Your Child Eat Enough Fruit? Many Don’t

New data suggests young children are missing out on the health benefits of fruit. We share tips on how to change that for your family.

Ripe sweet strawberries, apples, oranges, plums, watermelon…the list of tasty, health-promoting fruits is endless. Children, in particular, have an affinity for sweet foods — and fruit fits the bill.

Yet in 2021, almost one-third of kids ages 1-5 did not eat a daily fruit, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which adds that “young children need specific nutrients to support their optimal growth and development (and) a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help provide these nutrients.”

Some parents are concerned about their kids’ sugar intake, and rightly so. This same CDC research found that more than 57% of children ages 1-5 drank a sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during the prior week. This number ranges from almost 39% to more than 79%, depending upon the state.

Worried about sugar?

Fruit is sweet, but is the sugar in fruit the same as in fruit-flavored candy or fruit-flavored beverages? Does fruit add extra sugar to your child’s diet? Answers to these important questions can help you make the best choices for your child’s healthy diet.

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, but not all sugars are equal, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This source highlights the differences between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars.

“The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of your total daily calorie intake,” says the article from eatright.org.

Pay attention to the word “added” here, because “added sugar does not include sugars that are found naturally in foods,” according to the site. “It refers to sugars or other sweeteners that are added to foods and drinks when they are processed or prepared.”

Fruits and vegetables may contain natural sugars, but they also provide dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Dairy products contain lactose, another form of natural sugar, but dairy foods also contain protein, calcium and vitamin D, according to eatright.org. Even grains provide some naturally occurring sugars.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most fruits are low in fat, sodium and calories — and fruit is cholesterol free. Loaded with potassium, fiber, folate and vitamin C, fruit is part of an overall healthy diet that can lower risks for certain diseases. For its health-promoting vitamins, fiber and nutrients, consider fruit to be part of your overall solution for getting your child to eat healthy.

How to get your child to eat more fruit

If your goal is to encourage your child to eat more fruit — and less added sugar in processed foods and beverages — here are some everyday tips to try, from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Start with choosemyplate.gov to learn how much fruit is appropriate for your child to eat each day. For children, the amount varies from 1 to 2 1/2 cups per day, depending on age. You can also learn some great facts about what makes fruit a healthy choice for you and your child.
  • When you shop, start in the fresh produce section and stock up so you know you’ll always have plenty of fresh fruit on hand for meals, snack time and dessert.
  • Add a fruit — or a vegetable — to each meal or snack. Fruit and cereal are natural partners and whole fruits are easy to add to lunchboxes or to eat as a snack. You can even add apples, oranges or blueberries to your salad to have with dinner.

These recipes make eating fruit even easier

Fruit is delicious on its own, but sometimes adding something special makes fruit more enjoyable — and can up the nutrition factor even higher. Here are some fruit-centric recipes from Milk Means More:

Content brought to you by Milk Means More. Visit milkmeansmore.org for more recipes and inspiration to get your kids to eat healthy.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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