What Parent Has Time To Feed Their Kids TEN Portions Of Fruit And Veg A Day?

Funny studio portrait of a blonde 5 years girl in a basket full of fruits and vegetables
Funny studio portrait of a blonde 5 years girl in a basket full of fruits and vegetables

As a house dad and wannabe cook, I am a stickler for the five-a-day fruit and veg regime. I believe in it; it's manageable; I can see the results in my children, aged 12, nine and six, who have never – touch wood – been sick enough to take a single day off school, a fact of which we are all extremely proud.

But they're not Gwyneth Paltrow's kids (to my knowledge): they eat (more than) their fair share of junk.

Crisps by the multi-pack; fizzy Lucozade by the litre; biscuits by the barrel. But this is balanced by what they eat between snacks: a banana or apple to go with their breakfast; cucumber, tomatoes and sliced peppers to go with their (homemade) burgers; broccoli or sweetcorn or peas to accompany their sausages and mash or (homemade) chicken nuggets and chips.

Oh, look at me: aren't I virtuous? Ha!

But despite this commitment to balance, it turns out that I, and five-a-day parents like me, have been getting it wrong. For it has been revealed that five-a-day isn't enough.

To have a chance of a longer, healthier life our kids should be eating TEN a day.

A new study conducted by University College London looked at the eating habits of just over 60,000 men and women between 2001 and 2008, using data collected from the annual National Health Survey.

The researchers found that eating large quantities of fruit and vegetables significantly lowered the risk of dying early.

Specifically, they found that eating seven helpings a day of fruit or vegetables could reduce a person's overall risk of premature death by 42 per cent when compared with people who ate just one portion.

But even seven-a-day was deemed not enough and 10 considered the optimum number, as the protective effect increases with every extra portion.

So even if you – and your kids – are eating a mere five portions, as based on World Health Organisation recommendations issued in 1990, which advised consuming 400g of fruit and vegetables each day to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity, it ain't enough.

And you can't even take a shortcut by opening a tin of fruit or veg because the study suggests that eating canned or frozen fruit is associated with a 'significantly' higher risk of mortality.

It is easy to dismiss this latest research as another rod with which to beat us parents, but if it is credible (and not being a scientist, I have absolutely no reason to doubt it) then it's our duty to at least strive to act on its findings, no?

However, even if it's desirable, is 10-a-day achievable?

Some people say the cost of fruit and veg alone makes it a non-starter, but I don't agree with that. It's a well stated fact that much of Britain's perishable food ends up in the bin because it isn't eaten quickly enough.

With a 10-a-day regime there would never be any waste. In fact, you'd pretty much spend your entire day chomping, like a cow or a sheep, as you attempt to reach the magic 10 target.

That's what my kids and I found on a couple of days this week as we attempted to up our intake of the healthy stuff.

Partly as an experiment, and partly as an effort to influence my children's eating habits for the rest of their lives, I bought three times the portions (one portion per child) of the following fruit and veg that they would have to consume over the course of two days to meet the new recommendations.

These didn't replace the kids' existing meals, but supplemented or accompanied them.

DAY ONE: 1 banana; 1 grapes; 3 tbsp sweetcorn; 3 tbsp peas; 1 onion; bowlful lettuce; 4 heaped tsp cabbage; ½ pepper; ¼ can tinned tomatoes; 4 tbsp green beans.

DAY TWO: 1 apple; 2 clementines; 2 large spears broccoli; 3 tbsp carrot; ¼ cucumber; 1 tomato; 1 leek, white part only; bowl spinach; ¼ cauliflower; ½ can baked beans.

And no potatoes, because they are counted as a starch, not a vegetable.

You try planning meals for three kids out of that lot: it is no mean feat, believe me.

The fruit's easy enough, but given the fact that just a couple of weeks ago even that was being demonised for containing too much sugar, I wanted to be as true to veg as a vegan.

Unfortunately, children's bellies are small, their mandibles are weak, and their boredom threshold is low, so presenting them with mounds and mountains of veggies just freaks them out.

So for the first day, a vegetable curry was the answer. Not too hot, not overly spiced. It went down a treat.

For the second day, I chucked as much veg as possible into a pan and blended a pasta sauce. Again, they wolfed this down.

But just as I was about to embark on Day Three, I lost the will to live.

Like many parents of school-age children, I work, albeit from home. Even in the space of a couple of days, the endless shopping that came with keeping three kids – not to mention me and their mother – stocked up on TEN portions of fruit and veg a day was virtually a full-time job.

But practicality issues aside, eating so much veg has side effects (especially to those whose bowels are not exclusively familiar to a vegetarian diet).

Small children are gassy enough as it is, but add in the bacterial effect from the effort of breaking down beans, broccoli, cabbage and leeks and the result is enough methane to have climate change scientists banging your door down, screaming: "SAVE THE PLANET AND STOP EATING SO MUCH VEG!"

• If five-a-day is really all you can summon the strength to prepare, this brilliant Five-Veg Sauce recipe from Ella's Kitchen Cookbook is a great way to get virtually the whole lot into your kids with minimal effort.