How to get your 5-a-day as a family

What is 5-a-day?

It’s recommended that you eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day as part of a balanced and varied diet. This is to help keep your body healthy and reduce the risk of serious health problems, like heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

If you’re the person who usually cooks for your whole family, getting everyone to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet can be a real challenge. To help, here’s a guide on how to make sure everyone in your family gets their 5-a-day.

What counts as 5-a-day?

You may think that all types of fruit and vegetables count toward your recommended daily intake, but there are a few exceptions worth noting because they may surprise you.

Foods that count as your 5-a-day

The majority of fruit and vegetables that haven’t been processed count toward your 5-a-day. This means you can count:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables
  • frozen fruit and vegetables
  • canned fruit and vegetables (choose ones with no added salt or sugar)
  • dried fruit and vegetables
  • fruit juice, vegetable juice, and smoothies
  • beans, chickpeas, and other pulses
  • Foods that don’t count

The foods that don’t contribute to your recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables include:

  • potatoes and other starchy vegetables, like yams, cassava, and plantain
  • pickled or salty vegetables, like gherkins, pickled onions, and olives
  • battered, deep-fried, or processed vegetables, like onion rings or vegetable crisps
  • ketchup and other table sauces
  • jams or chutneys that contain fruit or vegetables
  • fruit yogurt and some fruit-based desserts, like cakes

What is a 5-a-day portion?

It’s not just the type of fruit or vegetable that matters when getting your 5-a-day, the amount of each fruit and vegetable you eat is also important. For adults, a single 5-a-day portion is:

  • 80g of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit and vegetables
  • 30g of dried fruit (equivalent to 80g of fresh fruit)
  • 150ml of fruit juice, vegetable juice, or a smoothie
  • 80g of beans or other pulses

But these guidelines are just for adults. As Dr. Carrie Ruxton, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert specializing in child nutrition, explains: “There’s no official guidance on ideal serving sizes for children – just adults. However, dietitians recommend offering fruit or vegetable servings around the size of a child’s fist. This is because younger children need smaller portions than older children. But teenagers can follow the adult guidance of 5 x 80g servings a day.”

Aside from the type of fruit and vegetable you choose, and how much of it you eat, there’s another thing to keep in mind when making sure you and your family get your 5-a-day: eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Remember, there are limits on certain items. “Only 1 serving of beans or pulses and 1 glass (150 ml) of fruit juice can count towards your 5-a-day,” says Dr. Ruxton. “This is because beans contain fewer nutrients than other fruits and vegetables, and fruit juices naturally contain ‘free sugars’, which need to be limited in the diet. However, having a serving of each is a simple way to reach 2 of your 5 recommended servings.”

Getting 1 of your 5-a-day into every meal

Now you know what counts towards your 5-a-day and how to judge portion sizes for the whole family, here are some easy ways to sneak a portion of fruit or vegetables into every meal:

Breakfast 5-a-day ideas
  • top porridge or cereal with fresh or dried fruit, such as berries, banana, apricots, or raisins, and enjoy as a family before work or school
  • add orange, apple, or pear segments to Greek yogurt for a quick and easy start to the day
  • make a smoothie using some fruit, milk, and yogurt, and drink it alongside your breakfast to squeeze in an extra portion before your day begins
Lunch 5-a-day ideas
  • keep tummies warm and full with homemade roast vegetable soup served with toast, suggests Dr. Ruxton. “Remember to blend soups until smooth as children usually prefer smooth rather than chunky soup.”
  • put some fun color into rice dishes by adding sweetcorn, peas, or diced carrot
  • add crunchy vegetables, like lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and peppers, to your favorite sandwich fillings for easy and tasty packed lunches for school or work
Dinner 5-a-day idea
  • “make chicken fajitas interesting by adding beans, tomato salsa, lettuce, and grated cheese,” says Dr. Ruxton
  • hiding vegetables in meals can be an effective way to get your kids to eat 5 a day. Dr. Ruxton recommends “throwing a handful of frozen peas and some chopped carrots into a spaghetti bolognese,” for example. Grating or pureeing vegetables into sauces is also a great way to disguise them when you have fussy eaters
  • get the whole family involved in preparing dinner by laying out a choice of vegetable toppings for them to add to a baked potato or fresh pizza base
5-a-day snack ideas
  • swap sugary fruit-flavored yogurts or puddings for Greek yogurt topped with berries, sliced banana, or grapes
  • tuck into a crunchy carrot, cucumber, and pepper sticks with hummus or cream cheese dip to stop tummies rumbling at break times
  • make fruit kebabs using slices of different fruits to enjoy outside and get a portion of your 5-a-day on the go

How to make getting your 5-a-day easier?

An important part of getting your family to eat their 5-a-day is making it as easy and hassle-free as possible.

As well as buying fresh produce, make sure you always have a variety of frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables at home. You can quickly and easily add these into one-pot meals, blend into smoothies or use them as simple side dishes to bulk up meals and squeeze in another of your 5-a-day. Frozen and tinned options are just as nutritious as fresh fruit and vegetables, making them a great way to get your 5-a-day on a budget.

Dr. Ruxton explains: “The 5-a-day advice includes fresh, frozen, dried and tinned products and juices. All of these options are rich in vitamins, minerals, and plant bioactive compounds, such as polyphenols and carotenoids. All whole fruits and vegetables contain fiber, and dried fruit is highest in fiber – a key reason why the recommended serving size is lower (30g instead of 80g).”

Preparing raw fruit and vegetables ahead of time can stop both adults and kids from reaching for unhealthy sugary or salty snacks. Simply cut your favorites into chunks, sticks, or slices and store them in snack-sized containers in the fridge for easy access.

“I’ve always found that a platter of raw vegetables works best when kids are most hungry – when watching TV after school, or sitting in the car, for example,” says Dr. Ruxton. “Favourites in my house are baby tomatoes, sliced red and yellow peppers, and cucumber and carrot batons. Studies show that younger children are put off by whole fruit and prefer slices, so make it easier for them to try new things by preparing a range of chopped fruit.”

When to see a doctor

There are many reasons to eat your 5-a-day, such as reducing your risk of some nutritional deficiencies. Not eating enough fruit and vegetables may also increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Speak to a doctor if you find it hard to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day or if you have any signs you need to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Key takeaways

  • fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruit and vegetables all count towards your 5-a-day. Juices, smoothies and beans, and pulses also count
  • sauces, jams, and chutneys, fruit yogurt and desserts, pickled vegetables, potatoes, and other starchy foods don’t count
  • an adult portion of fresh, frozen, and tinned fruit or vegetables, or beans and other pulses, is 80g. For dried fruit, it’s 30g, and for juices and smoothies, it’s 150ml
  • stocking up on frozen and canned produce can make getting your 5-a-day easier, quicker and cheaper
  • making snacks ahead of time can help encourage children to choose fruit and veg over sugary and salty snacks

Author: Libby Williams

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Expert – Dr. Carrie Ruxton, registered dietitian and nutrition expert specializing in Child Nutrition

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