cookingclassThe Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF) welcomes new research from a University College London (UCL) study, linking an increased intake of fruit and vegetables to a lower chance of death from cancer, heart disease or stroke, suggesting that eating more than the government recommended “five a day” may have additional health benefits.

The research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day was associated with a 25% lower risk of cancer and 31% lower risk of heart disease or stroke.

In the UK we struggle to eat the recommended five a day, but it’s never too early to start promoting healthy eating habits and a critical window of opportunity is in a child’s earliest years.

Judy More, paediatric dietician and ITF member said: “Although this research focused on adults, offering children fruit and vegetables at all meals and some snacks teaches them that eating fruits and vegetables is normal – a message for them to retain as they become adults. Learning to like vegetables and fruit in their early years can take time; some toddlers need to be offered a new food up to 10 – 14 times before they will be brave enough to try tasting it. Toddlers often prefer the flavour of vegetables that have been stir fried, roasted or baked rather than steamed or boiled. Key tips to help parents teach their young children healthy eating habits include: eating together as a family and making mealtimes relaxed, happy occasions; eating the foods that you would like your toddler to eat and rewarding your toddler with your attention when he or she eats well or tries something new. Young children have good and bad days when it comes to eating and it is best to focus on their intake over a week rather than one day.

You can track the amounts of different foods your toddlers are eating, using the ITF’s newly launched food calculator app, Tot It Up. The app gives practical advice based on the ITF's award winning Portion Size Recommendations for 1-4 year olds.