Even the pickiest kids will eat more vegetables if you offer veggies to kids when they are very young—and keep offering—a new study finds.
The research, involving babies and children from the UK, France, and Denmark, also dispels the popular myth that vegetable tastes need to be masked or given by stealth in order for children to eat them.
“For parents who wish to encourage healthy eating in their children, our research offers some valuable guidance,” says lead researcher Marion Hetherington, a professor in the Institute of Psychological Sciences at the University of Leeds.
“Even if your child is fussy or does not like veggies, our study shows that 5 to 10 exposures will do the trick.”
No Sugar Needed
Researchers gave artichoke puree to 332 children from three countries aged from weaning age to 38 months. During the experiment each child was given between five and 10 servings of at least 100 grams of the artichoke puree in one of three versions: basic; sweetened, with added sugar; or added energy, where vegetable oil was mixed into the puree.
There was also little difference in the amounts eaten over time between those who were fed basic puree and those who ate the sweetened puree, which suggests that making vegetables sweeter does not make a significant difference to the amount children eat.
Younger children consumed more artichoke than older children. This is because after 24 months children become reluctant to try new things and start to reject foods—even those they previously liked.
Among the children, four distinct groups emerged. Most children (40 percent) were “learners” who increased intake over time. Of the group, 21 percent consumed more than 75 percent of what was offered each time and they were called “plate-clearers”.
Those who ate less than 10 grams even by the fifth helping were classified as “non-eaters,” amounting to 16 percent of the cohort, and the remainder were classified as “others” (23 percent) since their pattern of intake varied over time.
Non-eaters, who tended to be older preschool children, were the most fussy, the research found.
Globe artichoke was chosen as the sample vegetable because, as part of the research, parents were surveyed and artichoke was one of the least-offered vegetables.
The research has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The researchers received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme.
*Image of “girl eating carrot puree” via Shutterstock