Getting kids to eat their veggies can be a challenge. New research finds that there is merit in the advice to repeatedly offer a variety of vegetables each time rather than just focus on one vegetable at a time.
Vegetables are a feature of dietary guidelines but in Australia, only a minority of adults and children reach the recommended number of servings each day. For children, an overall dislike for the less sweet and more bitter tasting vegetables can see them turning their noses up. But food preferences are mostly learned during childhood and these can then track into adulthood, So this is an important stage of life to instill good eating habits.
Repeated exposure is a well-recognised way to increase children’s vegetable acceptance. The effectiveness of this was the subject of a recent Australian randomised controlled trial which recruited 32 children between the ages of four and six who were already eating a low amount of vegetables.
The children were split into three groups. One group was exposed to a single vegetable (broccoli) three times per week for five weeks. Another group was exposed to multiple vegetables (broccoli, zucchini and peas) over the same five-week period. A third group served as a control group. Vegetable consumption was measured by a combination of meal records from a laboratory dinner, at-home weighed food records, and parental reporting.
For the families that offered children multiple vegetables, there was an increase in consumption of about 0.6 to 1.2 servings per day. No change in consumption was seen in families offering only a single vegetable nor in the control group. Three months after the study finished, the children in the multiple-serving group were still eating more vegetables.
Offering a variety of vegetables is key to getting kids to eat them
Simultaneous exposure to a variety of vegetables may be more effective because it reduces the ‘boredom’ factor. It may be a little hard for kids to get excited about broccoli and only broccoli if they see it every meal. Adding colour and variety to a meal with several vegetables may help promote the desire to eat more of them.
This small pilot study showed the strategy of offering not just one, but a variety of vegetables could be the key to getting kids to eat more.