With obesity or being overweight constituting a problem for about one-third of U.S. children and teens, we’re in dire need of change. For the first time, today’s kids may not live as long as their parents. To change the trajectory of this disturbing trend, we need new physical activity and diets. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be a key part of those solutions, and it’s important for them to be seen as a tasty, fun part of everyday eating, rather than a medicine or a reprimand.
How to make the effort
It makes sense to emphasize solutions for kids. They have the best chance to build good habits for life. They respond to role models like athletes, celebrities, their favorite cartoon characters and their parents.
So where do we start the changes, and how do we make them fun? Why not start with breakfast? It’s called the most important meal of the day for a reason. Countless studies show the importance of breakfast, especially the impact a good breakfast has on kids and how well they do in school.
Breakfast, as a meal, offers so many traditional opportunities to include fresh produce: yogurt parfaits, smoothies, pancake ingredients, cereal toppers, egg dishes and more. Today, many non-traditional foods are making an appearance at breakfast: casseroles, quesadillas, wraps. The landscape of fruits and vegetables offered at breakfast has expanded as well to offer greater variety. Avocados, for example, are being used more and more as a spread or an ingredient in breakfast offerings.
Staying healthy on the run
But, everyone doesn’t have time to make a breakfast, and fresh produce can be a solution for busy families on the go. Bananas, the traditional breakfast fruit, conveniently comes in its own wrapper and is easy to handle. Supermarkets and convenience stores offer fruit cups and other ready-to-eat items. Restaurants, including quick-serve, offer fruit options for kids.
Kids need to see consumption of fresh produce as the normal way to eat, something you include in every meal (half the plate). So it’s important that they see their parents and other role models eating fruits and vegetables as part of their normal, everyday meals.
And kids respond to marketing. Character marketing is especially fruitful. “Children develop emotional bonds with brand mascots and media characters as if they were their personal friends,” according to a March issue brief from Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. “They can influence children’s food choices and diet.”
Programs like eat brighter! can attract children ages 2 to 5 and their families to fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat brighter! is a collaboration among PMA, Sesame Workshop, and the Partnership for a Healthier America (Let’s Move). Produce marketers can use the popular Sesame Street characters royalty-free to help drive produce consumption in kids as they are forming their tastes and food preferences for life. Starting the youngest kids off with the expectation—the normalcy—of having tasty fruits and vegetables at every meal and as snacks will serve them well throughout their lives. They won’t have to turn a trend around.
Cathy Burns, President, Produce Marketing Association, [email protected]