KIDS
June 4, 2014

Turning Kids Into Veggie Eaters

You know the best way to keep kids healthy and at a good weight is to be sure vegetables are part of their diets. Here's how to make that happen.

One of the most common questions parents ask dietitians is, “How do I get my child to eat vegetables?” The answer is simple — but not necessarily easy — “Start early, and stick with it.”

When babies are exposed to a new vegetable early in life, they will eat more of it than if parents had waited until they were older to get them to try it, a new study has shown. Even babies who were fussy about their food ate a little more each time they were offered another opportunity to try vegetables.

Researchers at the University of Leeds offered over 300 children aged four months to 38 months artichoke puree. Each child was given between five and 10 servings of three versions of pureed artichoke over a period of time: plain artichoke puree, sweetened artichoke puree, or artichoke puree with added vegetable oil.

Over the long run, there is a good chance that your child will learn to like a variety of vegetables (and other whole foods) if they are regularly given the chance to try them.

Why was artichoke the vegetable used in this study? When parents were surveyed about the kinds of vegetables they gave their children, artichoke was one that was offered the least. So, keep in mind that there are lots of vegetables to try, and your child is likely eventually to find some of them acceptable.

Kids didn't seem to care whether the puree was sweetened or not. They ate the same amount, suggesting that adding sugar to vegetables doesn’t really help encourage kids to eat them.

Older children ate less artichoke than the younger ones. This makes sense since two years of age is about the point at which children become less likely to try new foods and more likely to reject foods, even those they once liked.

Children fell into four categories based on their responses to the artichoke puree. “Plate-clearers” (21%) ate more than 75 percent of what was offered every time. The “learners” (40%) increased their intake of artichoke over time. Younger children tended to be “learners” or “plate-clearers.”

“Non-eaters” (16%) ate the least amount, despite being offered the vegetable five times. The remaining roughly 25 percent had no intake pattern. They tended to be the older children and the fussiest about what they ate.

According to lead researcher, Marion Hetherington, “If you want to encourage your children to eat vegetables, make sure you start early and often. Even if your child is fussy and does not like vegetables, our study shows that 5-10 exposures will do the trick.”

Babies can begin eating solid foods sometime between four and six months of age, depending on an individual baby’s readiness. Fortified rice cereal is usually the first solid food offered, but pureed vegetables are a good second food to add.

The best window of opportunity for introducing new foods is from six months of age to two years. If your baby doesn’t like a food the first time she tries it, that doesn’t mean she won’t like it on another occasion. Wait a few weeks and try again. Parents tend to give up after about five tries even though it can take eight or more attempts.

It’s not uncommon for children to have a fear of new foods, and this research reinforces the notion that many exposures are often needed before a child will taste a new food, much less embrace it. Over the long run, there is a good chance that your child will learn to like a variety of vegetables (and other whole foods) if they are regularly given the chance to try them.

The research is published in PLOS ONE.

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