The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a variety of vegetables every day. Vegetables should make up a large part of your daily food intake, and they’re encouraged at every meal – breakfast and snacks too!
Research shows that only 8.6% per cent of four to eight-year-olds in Australia eat the recommended serves of vegetables each day (1). As kids get older, this number decreases to 4.6% of nine to thirteen-year-olds meeting their requirements. The most commonly consumed vegetable is potatoes.
Why are vegetables important?
Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and many phytonutrients (nutrients naturally present in plants) that help your body stay healthy. Since vegetables are low in kilojoules (energy) relative to many other foods, including them every day can help prevent excessive weight gain. They may also help protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancers (2). Different vegetables and fruit can help protect the body in different ways, so choose a variety of colours every day, such as:
• Green (broccoli, spinach, peas)
• Orange (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes)
• Yellow and red (capsicum, tomatoes, corn).
• Purple (beetroot and purple cabbage)
• White (cauliflower and mushrooms)
How many veggies do children need each day?
|2-3 years||4-8 years||9-11 years||12-18 years|
|Boys||2 ½||4 ½||5||5 ½|
|Girls||2 ½||4 ½||5||5|
Note: the number of serves varies according to activity levels, age and health status.
A serve of vegetables is equivalent to:
- ½ cup cooked green or orange vegetables; cooked dried or canned beans, peas or lentils; sweetcorn
- 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
- ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables
- 1 medium tomato
What to look for
Remember that you don’t always have to rely on fresh veg – frozen, canned or dried varieties are all suitable too. When it comes to choosing canned or dried veggies, check the ingredients list and choose those with reduced or no added salt, no added fat or sugar.
The intake of some salted, dried, fermented or pickled vegetables has been associated with an increased risk of some cancers (2), so it is recommended to limit these foods as much as possible. Also, limit fried vegetables such as potato and vegetable chips and crisps as they add unnecessary kilojoules (energy) and added salt to your diet. Chips and crisps do not fall into the vegetable food group but are classed as “occasional” or “extra” foods. Fried foods such as chips, crisps and hashbrowns are sources of saturated and trans-fats which are not good for our health and should be reduced as much as possible.
1 – 2011-12 Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Food & Nutrients
2 – NHMRC – Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary