We’ve all heard that we need to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day but even that is not enough according to government recommendations. We asked the team at the Food Foundation to explain.
How much veg do we eat?
When asked about how many portions of veg their children consume, parents in England reported that one in four children ate none at all in the day preceding the survey. However, a detailed nutrition survey which is conducted across the UK, and which includes all the small amounts of veg eaten in other foods (e.g on pizza or in a ready meal), reveals the level of consumption is a little higher. This still leaves one in four secondary school children and 13% of primary school children eating less than a portion a day. Half of adults eat less than the average of 2.3 portions a day. If you’re on a low income, you’re likely to be eating on average half a portion less than those on a high income. People living in Scotland and Northern Ireland eat on average fewer.
How much veg is enough veg?
On average, we need to eat at least one extra portion a day, and many of us need to eat much more. The government guidance combines fruit and veg and recommends we eat at least five portions a day. This guidance is consistent across all UK nations. We suggest that half should be veg and half fruit, this would result in 2.5 portions or 200g per day for adults and secondary school children, and 125g for primary school children. However, the latest Eatwell Guide, which captures all the current dietary recommendations, shows that we should be eating 7 portions of fruit and veg, which amounts to 3.5 veg portions a day. Very few kids eat 3.5 portions of veg a day. To be eating enough veg, on average a primary school age child needs to eat an additional 75g of veg per day (1.5 portions).
How do we eat our veg?
Salad, tomatoes, carrots and leafy greens are our favourite vegetables, though of course there are hundreds of others available. A considerable proportion of the veg we eat is processed or ultra-processed (25% for adults, 37% for secondary school children). Together, baked beans and pizza contribute 17% of the veg in children’s diets, although veg eaten like this may also come with added sugar and salt, which could act against some of the health benefits associated with this veg. Children get more of their veg from eating at school or nursery than eating at home. When they’re at home, though, they are more likely to eat veg if they’re sitting at the table and eating with others.
Adding an extra portion of veg to dinner at home eaten around a table and swapping out some of the more processed ways we get our veg for some fresh or frozen unprocessed ones are simple ways to make sure we get an extra portion into our families each day to make sure we are eating enough veg. Why not have a browse through our veg-packed recipes to get an idea of some easy ways to do this? Have a look at Kathleen Kerridge's tips for making this aim more affordable. Or check out expert Dr. Clare Llewellyn's tips for dealing with fussy eaters within the family who prefer their veg in a more processed form.