How much fruit do kids really need?

By Sylvia Crowe

How much fruit do kids need to maintain health? It may be less than you think.

We go through the recommended servings and everything you need to know about how fruit can affect teeth.  Kids who graze on fruit can do some serious damage to their teeth.

From a pediatric dentist‘s perspective, it’s not so much the AMOUNT of fruit that’s a worry for us, it’s the FREQUENCY of consumption. Teeth that are exposed to sugars (even natural sugars) and acids frequently during the day never get to rest and heal. Repeated sugar and acid attacks lead to tooth decay.

Fruit is a whole food which provides energy and nutrients including potassium, fibre, vitamin C and folate. Many kids love fruit and it’s tempting (and easy) to give it at every snack or mealtime. But children need less than you may think! Top up meals and snacks with vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, carrot, cucumber and capsicum sticks to reduce the consumption of fruit but still provide nutrient-packed whole foods. 

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends:

½ serve of fruit for 1-2 year olds

1 serve of fruit for 2-3 year olds 

1 ½ serves of fruit for 4-8 year olds

2 serves of fruit for ages 9 and above 

What does one serving of fruit look like?

One serving equals:

1 medium apple or banana, orange, pear

2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums

What about juice and dried fruit?

Whilst the Australian guidelines include juice and even dried fruit as an acceptable substitute on an occasional basis, we think it’s best to avoid these options and serve fresh fruit instead. This is because fruit juices have the fibre removed and fibre gives the brain important feedback as to when you’re full. Dried fruits have concentrated and sticky sugars that adhere to teeth and promote decay. Dried fruit and juices are considered to be added sugars as part of the World Health Organisation Sugar Guidelines. 

Eating fruit is important for overall health, however, fruit contains a sugar called fructose. Large amounts of natural sugars like fructose can damage teeth and contribute to tooth decay in the same way as any other sugar. 

Fruits can also be acidic and cause tooth decay and dental erosion (dissolving of the enamel). 

Some tips for reducing risks of tooth decay

  • Avoid grazing on fruit, have cheese or veggie sticks instead 
  • Offer a small piece of cheese at meals to neutralise acids
  • Keep high sugar fruits for breakfast or after dinner so they are closer to toothbrushing time
  • Substitute veggies such as cherry tomato, carrot and cucumber sticks for children to take to school
  • Drink water after fruit to rinse out the mouth
  • Do not brush teeth straight away, waiting 30 mins can allow the softened enamel to harden

The following fruits are listed in order of sugar content, from high to low

Sugar content of fruit per 100g 

Banana 16.9g 

Grapes 15.5g

Mango 14g 

Blueberries 10g 

Apple 10.4g 

Orange 9g 

Raspberries 7g

Rockmelon 5.7g 

Strawberries 3.8g

Low-sugar fruits such as strawberries make a great addition to plain unsweetened yoghurt, smoothies and breakfast oats to help make them more palatable for fussy eaters.