Research shows the nation’s children and teens are eating less vegetables than ever, with as many as one in seven of children aged between 4-11 years not eating a single portion of vegetables a day.

With the backing of celebrity food campaigners, nutritionists and the marketing industry – 2018 will see vegetables claim a healthy wedge of the food market for youngsters.

Two new initiatives from the Food Foundation – #VegPower and #PeasPlease – launch a double-pronged attack on the unhealthy eating habits of students.

Calling for more action from the foodservice sector, the Food Foundation has gathered food and marketing industry advice to provide a toolkit of tips on providing and promoting healthier food for the younger generation. Backed by Prue Leith, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, the campaign to help our kids make healthier choices, urges the hospitality industry to take a stand.

Prue, vice-president of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, said: “Just think, if we could teach this generation of children how to eat, we’d solve the obesity crisis for good – because they’d teach their kids and so on. Chefs can really help, by wooing them with delicious veg.”

The Food Foundation’s Alex Ward added: “There’s greater public demand than ever for the sector to lead the way in providing healthy, good food. Any lunch or dinner where a child doesn’t eat veg sets them up not to meet their ‘5 a day’. “With the support of many industry figures including Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, we are calling for an advertising fund specifically for vegetables that can help re-launch the image of veg and support a healthier food environment.”

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Veg: Know your onions…

  1. More than a third of the veg children eat is highly processed – with 17% of consumption coming from pizza and baked beans.
  2. A meagre 1.2% of food advertising spend goes on vegetables.
  3. 30 years ago, 83% of the veg we ate came from the UK. Now it is 58%, partly because we eat more exotic varieties.
  4. If we increased veg consumption in line with dietary guidance, the UK would have the chance to grow 1.5million metric tonnes more veg a year.
  5. The School Food Standards (2015) for lunches state that there must be one or more portions of veg or salad offered as an accompaniment every day, and at least three different vegetables offered each week.

Tips for the lips…

  • Try to think about simple swaps you can make, like sweet potatoes rather than potatoes
  • For younger children, how about ‘I ate my veg’ stickers?
  • Are there ways to get veg in under the radar? For example, extra veg in pasta or pizza sauces, leeks or cauliflower in mac and cheese.
  • Create visual interest on menus; make vegetable dishes attractive with photography and fun design.
  • Celebrate the variety of colour found in different types of vegetables. Serve meals with carrot and cucumber dippers, tomato salsa and freshly squished guacamole – each of which counts as a portion of veg.
  • Kids love to feel in control so allowing them to choose is still important – just make sure all the options include vegetables.

What counts as veg? Here are your ‘Team Greens’…

  • Included are all fresh, frozen, dried and tinned veg, and those cooked as part of other dishes (such as soup).
  • Juice up to 150ml can be counted as one a day.
  • Pulses and beans are included but are capped at one portion in terms of their contribution to the 5 a day.
  • Potatoes, yam, cassava and plantain are NOT included; sweet potatoes, parsnips, swede and turnips ARE.
  • A single portion is 80g for secondary school students and above, and 50g for primary school children, based on guidance from the Children’s Food Trust.