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You try your hardest to get a veggie on the table every night—and then to have your kids take at least a few bites. Yet most children are still falling short of what they need. In fact, children ages 6 to 11 consume less than a cup a day of vegetables (older kids get slightly more). Parents aren't doing much better. A recent government report says that only 25 percent of adults get their recommended five daily servings (that's about 2 1/2 cups). The benefits of fruits and veggies are substantial. Not only are they loaded with vitamins and minerals, but they also have a high fiber content that fills you up, which is helpful when you're trying to eat less and lose weight. Furthermore, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, fruits and vegetables may help reduce your chances of developing cancer. That's because a diet rich in fresh produce can reduce excess body fat, a known risk factor for many kinds of cancer. In addition, a new study published in the journal Circulation reveals that kids and adults who eat more vegetables are less likely to develop hardened arteries (stiff arteries burden the heart and can lead to cardiovascular disease in the future).
To get your 2 1/2 cups a day, squeeze a vegetable in at lunch (like extra lettuce and tomato on your sandwich or a cup of vegetable soup) or double-up at dinner by serving both a cooked veggie and a green salad. And hard as it may be, stay the course with finicky kids. "Sometimes children need to be exposed to foods many, many times before they'll try them," says Heidi McIndoo, RD, author of When to Eat What (Adams Media). Try to add a kid-friendly spin, such as a bit of melted cheese on cauliflower or a drizzle of maple syrup on cooked carrots.