UK researchers are urging parents not to give up on encouraging their children to eat their vegetables, suggesting the three most effective tactics that parents can use to boost vegetable consumption in a new study.
Led by Dr Emma Haycraft, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Loughborough, the team recruited 135 families and asked parents to offer their child a raw vegetable which they didn’t like every day at snack time for two weeks.
They also advised parents to offer children a ‘non-food’ reward in exchange for eating their vegetables and suggested that parents eat with their children.
In addition to their own study, the team also looked at a seven other studies investigating ways to get children to eat their greens.
The team found that the method of offering the vegetable repeatedly each day and making it a part of their daily meal or snack time was the most effective in encouraging children to eat a vegetable that they previously had an aversion to.
Although it may take weeks or even months of repeatedly offering the vegetable, Dr Haycraft noted, “Don’t give up! But don’t pressure them.”
“It might feel as if they’ll never accept vegetables, but tastes are always changing,” she continued.
“We know that children’s fussy eating peaks around two years of age. And it seems that younger children may be more amenable to change their behavior before habits become too deeply ingrained.”
The reward system was also found to be an effective way of helping children to learn to like and eat vegetables, while parents eating with children and showing kids how much they liked the vegetables also made children more willing to try them.
The results could provide important advice for parents, with many previous studies showing that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is important for reducing a child’s caloric intake, and therefore decreasing the risk of obesity.
“There are 40 million children under five, globally, who are overweight or obese,” commented Dr Haycraft.
“In the UK, children’s and adults’ vegetable consumption falls well below the recommended levels of five-per-day.”
All of the recommendations can be found online in the journal Current Nutrition Reports.