New Zealanders are still failing to appreciate the importance of eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, according to a new study carried out by Research International for the Five-plus A Day programme.

A dominance of meat and dairy products on the plate is actually placing New Zealand among the least vegetarian countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Dieticians, backed by the Cancer Society and the Health Ministry, recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, preferably consisting of two pieces of fruit and three vegetables. Research International's survey of 18 families in the greater Auckland area, with children aged between five and 15, showed however that vegetable consumption was low down on the dinner plate priority.

Fruit was more popular than vegetables because of its variety and portability, making vegetables rarely classed as a snack and so restricted to the evening meal. Meanwhile, many said that vegetables are difficult to prepare and cook, and worryingly when meals consisted of the fastfood or pre-prepared option, vegetables are often missed out altogether.

In a statement, Paula Dudley, of the Five-plus A Day programme, said that fruit and vegetables were taking second place because people are "bombarded" with convenience foods that save time rather than necessarily provide a nutritious meal; pre-prepared sauces, "heat and eat" options and fastfood for example.

Health Ministry figures have shown that around 860 people die every year because they did not eat enough fruit and vegetables. About 650 cancer-related death a year are linked to a low fruit and vegetable consumption.