We know that fruits and vegetables are all good for us, but are they equal?

For many of us, it is almost a collective childhood memory: you’re sitting at the dinner table, on your plate is a portion of broccoli/spinach/carrots (or fill-in-the-vegetable). You’ve finished the rest of your dinner. You’re trying – you really are – but there seems to be a magnetic field repelling your fork from your vegetable, thus keeping you from getting it into your mouth. Then comes the voice, “Young lady/man, you are not leaving this table until you finish your vegetables, and that is that!”

It varies a bit from child to child, but for generations this type of practice has been common. The fact that veggies are a great source of nutrition and can contribute significantly to good health explains why parents sometimes commit, what feels like to a kid, a mild form of torture.

It has been, in fact, so common that a pamphlet that our pediatrician gave me outlined how battles over food at the dinner table are not successful in achieving healthy eating habits now or later in life. Since I was very often the little girl at the table unable to swallow a mouthful of carrot “gum” or even bring that lima bean in the vicinity of my mouth, I was already eager to take a different approach with my kid.

But that’s about as far as I had gotten when our daughter started to crinkle her nose and object to anything green. I found myself saying, “Okay, but you have to eat something plant-based!” This wasn’t thought out. I just said it once, she ate some fruit instead of green stuff, and somehow it became a habit. When we were having a vegetable she didn’t like, we substituted fruit for her. Sometimes we would push her to try one bite of veg, at least, but it came with the guarantee that she would get fruit after that.

I recently found myself questioning the wisdom of this. Our daughter is a bit older now, but when pushed for time or we’re not “feeling it” for the salad, I find myself chopping apples, bananas or other fruit to put on our plates to supplement the meal. My question was, is fruit a legitimate substitute for vegetables?

So, I did a little research. (For in depth information and charts on food nutrition, you can check out the USDA National Nutrition Database.)

Bottom line, nutritionally, vegetables beat fruits with a stick. 

Other bottom line, even so, my fruit substitution move is not such a terrible idea. Here’s why:

  • While vegetables are nutritionally superior, fresh fruits, and even canned fruits that don’t have a lot of added sugar, are still food superstars. They are high in fiber and offer the same nutrients as vegetables, just in smaller quantities.
  • Adding to the plate something “plant-based” that is not a vegetable still means variety and with that variety comes a better nutritionally balanced meal. Psychologically, it is starting a habit of building a meal plate with balanced portions of a variety of foods.
  • Meals are an important time for the family to share their day and enjoying our food together is part of the total experience that helps kids develop a healthy relationship with food.

I’m not going to stop trying to get the whole family to eat more veggies and I would not tell anyone else to give up on them, either. That said, I do suggest we can relax a little knowing that we can turn to fruits for another solid source of “plant-based” nutrition. 

After reviewing some charts, here are my top nutritional fruit superstar picks*: apples, cherries, bananas, pineapple, blueberries and dried apricots. (All chosen for a combination of high nutritional value, taste appeal and availability.)

*Grapefruit was a top contender no matter where I looked — it doesn’t make my list because, in order for me to enjoy it, mom has to toss the fruit with sugar and serve it baked with vanilla ice cream, a meringue and some maraschino cherries!

Fruits or veggies, enjoy with the knowledge that they are all good and, of course, it’s best when we eat them together!