Most Kids Eat Fruits & Veggies (But Spinach, Nah)

A little girl wrinkles her nose at the sight of eating veggies.
(Image credit: littleny/

Most U.S. children eat at least some fruits and vegetables each day, although few eat dark green vegetables, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On any given day in 2009 and 2010, more than three-quarters of children and teens ages 2 to 19 ate some fruit, researchers found. About 30 percent consumed citrus, melon or berries, 50 percent ate other fruits such as apples, bananas and pears, and 53 percent drank fruit juice.

Even more children ate vegetables — more than 90 percent of children consumed some vegetables on a given day during the study period. About 75 percent ate red or orange vegetables (such as carrots and bell peppers), 53 percent ate starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and yams), and 60 percent ate other vegetables (such as cauliflower and celery). However, only about 12 percent consumed dark green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach.

In the study, foods such as french fries counted as vegetables because they contain potatoes, said study researcher Samara Joy Nielsen, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new study is a first step in learning about kids' fruit and vegetable consumption, Nielsen said. "If the dietary guidelines are encouraging Americans, and encouraging youth, to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, then it's helpful to know who's consuming what," Nielsen said.

The proportion of kids who ate fruit and vegetables decreased with age: for example, more than 90 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds ate fruit on a given day, but only 66 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds did so. [10 Ways to Promote Kids' Healthy Eating Habits]

The researchers looked only at whether children consumed "any fruit," or "any vegetables" in a 24-hour period, and so the study cannot determine how much of these foods children are eating. The U.S. federal dietary guidelines recommend that people consume at least 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables per day, and often more depending on age, sex and amount of physical activity. For example kids ages 9 to 13 are recommended to consume 2 to 2.5 cups of vegetables and 1.5 cups of fruit daily.

More research is needed to examine how much fruit and vegetables kids are eating, she said.

Other recent studies suggest that although kids eat some fruit and vegetables daily, they may not be eating that much. A 2013 national survey of U.S. high school students found that 61 percent of students ate vegetables at least once daily, but just 16 percent ate vegetables three or more times per day.

The new report is published today (July 16) by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.