Cliff Harvey PhD

Over the last few years, there has been a lot of controversy about nutrition for kids. From Chef Pete Evans being hauled over the coals for his ‘Paleo’ views on children’s nutrition, through to my friend and colleague Caryn Zinn being lambasted by dieticians for her ‘real food first’ views on nutrition for children (highlighted in a Campbell Live report on kids lunches).

My question amongst all of this is “When did it become so controversial to recommend real food for growing kids?”

There is a large body of evidence showing that fresh produce (fruit, vegetables, and berries) are associated with improved health outcomes later in life and yet research from the latest New Zealand Ministry of Health ‘National Children’s Nutrition Survey’ suggests that only 40% of children eat the recommended amounts of both fruit and vegetables per day.1 So surely recommendations and eating styles that prioritise REAL food and whole, unprocessed produce, over the processed and refined foods so abundant in our modern food environment (that are often lower in vitamins and minerals) are warranted?

This data also suggested that although most children are getting adequate amounts of the essential vitamins and minerals, this worsens as they age, and by the time we reach adulthood many Kiwis are not getting the recommended amounts of many of the vitamins and minerals from their diets.2

It is clear that the shift towards more sugar and more ‘ultra-refined’ processed foods that have occurred over the past four decades has been detrimental to health and has encouraged increased rates of obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Just one of the solutions we should be pursuing is to encourage the receptive minds of our young people to become reconnected to REAL food.

Simple strategies to choose real food:

  • Try to make at least 80% of what you put in your child's lunchbox (or on their plate) natural, whole, unprocessed food

  • Choose natural carbohydrate choices (such as kumara, yams, potato and some whole, unprocessed grains) over pasta, bread, crackers and other refined choices

  • Choose water over fruit juices

  • Get kids eating vegetables early! Much of our food preferences are based on what we ‘learn’ to eat early in life

  • Use smoothies made with whole, unprocessed foods (such as vegetables, berries, nuts, and nut butter, seeds and fruit) as an option in addition to meals to boost vegetable intake

There’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat, but we should always try to prioritise whole, natural, foods to provide the essential nutrients that growing bodies need!

Supplement recommendation for fussy little eaters: Kids Good Stuff by Nuzest.

KGS is a delicious-tasting smoothie nutrient booster for kids, packed full of greens, fruits, veggies, and herbs. Strengthened with vitamins and minerals. Everything kids need to live, learn, grow and play.


  1. Ministry of Health., Key Results of the 2002 National Children's Nutrition Survey. 2003: Wellington.
  2. University of Otago and Ministry of Health., A Focus on Nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. 2011: Wellington.


Leave a comment