Feeding kids thier veggies is a common struggle for many parents and the scientific community is on it with new research. Whether your kid’s a picky eater or an adventurous one, some methods are proven to increase the chances that he’ll grow fond of veggies and fruit.
The most important piece of advice for parents who want to get their kids eating more fruits and veggies is to serve them again and again. Repeated exposure works for many things in life – anything you’ve done several times becomes easier to do, turning eventually into a mindless routine, and familiarity itself can breed fondness. We do what we’ve already done, and we’re all creatures of habit.
But it works especially well with food.
Fear of unfamiliar food might be a natural evolutionary tendency that kept us humans safe from ingesting poisonous plants – eating only what we already knew to be risk-free worked well for us as gatherers.
But what’s the best way to repeat food exposure? Should parents prepare the vegetable in several different ways? Serve a variety of vegetables? Variety is something that is known to increase food intake in adults; does it also work for young kids?
Solo or together?
Researchers from the UK recruited preschoolers aged 2-5 years in five nurseries. Their new study appears in the journal Appetite (online ahead of press).
The tested veggies were served as a single snack, with repeated exposure, or mixed with other vegetables: The kids were served about 3 ounces of either baby sweet corn, celery or red peppers alone 5-6 times, or combined with the other target veggies plus radishes and green peppers.
Exposing kids to single vegetables repeatedly worked its wonders – confirming many previous studies. The effect was seen as early as the third exposure.
To the researcher’s surprise, however, serving the vegetable alone worked much better than offering variety. Serving the variety didn’t increase veggie intake, and surprisingly still, kids who were exposed to a single vegetable and increased its intake after several exposures didn’t eat more of it when it was served mixed with other veggies. In other words, getting these young kids to accept and eat more red peppers when served as a snack didn’t lead them to eat more red peppers when they were in a bowl with other veggies.
The paper discusses the “contamination effect” – kids will reject a food they like if it’s touching or mixed in with something they don’t…