Every mealtime, it’s the same story: they pull a face, cross their arms, and keep their mouth firmly shut. Whether it’s cauliflower, turnip or green beans, those yucky vegetables aren’t going in.
It may sound simple enough, but a new scientific study shows that giving children the opportunity to choose the vegetable they want to eat can help them incorporate these foods into their diet.
For many years, science has been investigating how to get young children to eat and even like vegetables. In 2005, France’s specialist Center for Taste and Feeding Behavior launched a vast study evaluating the period during which kids develop their food preferences: between weaning and the age of two.
Among the many findings was the idea that by introducing a vegetable at five months of age, a baby was more likely to enjoy it than at six months. This finding was all the more interesting in that it did not hold true for other food categories, such as grains or fish.
Furthermore, the scientists report that the greater the variety of foods introduced at the start of weaning, the more positive children’s subsequent reaction to these foods would be.
The message was clear: “Children who enjoyed vegetables the most at the start of dietary diversification were also those who enjoyed them the most at later ages, up to 24 months,” the experts concluded.
But what about kids older than two, who know how to sit at the table, grasp their fork, and make themselves understood? The study reported that “coercive strategies to get children to taste food are associated with a lower appreciation of vegetables”.
In other words, there’s no point in forcing your kid to eat a radish.
Research from the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience at Maastricht University in the Netherlands suggests that giving children the opportunity to choose the vegetable they want to eat helps them to accept it better.
The results, published in the journal “Appetite”, concern four- to five-year-olds being encouraged to try an unfamiliar vegetable. These kids were offered three cups containing raw celeriac, a turnip-like vegetable – but what they didn’t know was that all of them contained the same thing.
During the analysis, some of the children were allowed to choose which one they wanted to eat, while the researchers instructed the others to eat the contents of a given cup.
“The results of this study imply that choice is an important factor in promoting unfamiliar vegetable intake in young children,” the researchers wrote.
In the UK, researchers have found another way to get children to eat vegetables: by replacing the characters of regular storybooks with an eggplant, a cauliflower and a carrot!
Digital books were developed at the beginning of the year, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Reading. Available via the See & Eat platform, they focus on each product to tell the story of how it is grown and how it is prepared in the kitchen.
For its part, Interfel – France’s interprofessional organisation for fresh fruit and vegetables – opted for a children’s podcast about “the secret life of fruit and vegetables”, with each episode presenting a vegetable and explaining why it grows in winter or summer.