Parents know how important vegetables are to their kids’ health, yet only 1 in 10 kids eat enough of them, leading to another worrying statistic: Only 1 in 10 US adults eat enough fruits and veggies to support good heath. How do you create good vegetable-eating habits? How do you get kids to like vegetables and eat them out of choice, without a struggle?
All habits are easier to form earlier in life, but that’s even more pertinent when it comes to food preferences. Generally, a baby’s first 20 months are the time he or she is most open to new flavors and textures – bear in mind that babies are fed nothing but milk until age 4-6 months. Acceptance of new foods diminishes after that, food neophobia peaks at age 5 years, after which interest in new food usually recovers.
So how do you take advantage of this window to get kids into broccoli, tomatoes and spinach?
A new review, published in the journal Appetite, collected all 46 relevant scientific studies on promoting intake of vegetables in kids under 3 years of age. Among these there were 25 interventional studies and 21 observational ones.
Strategies that work
There were 27 studies exposing babies to the same vegetable repeatedly, for 8-10 repeats. All 21 experimental studies find that recurrent exposure increases intake, usually by at least about an ounce a day, and that the younger the baby, the greater the increase in veggie consumption. The 6 observational studies confirm the same trends. Some of these studies had up to 6-month follow up, demonstrating that repeated exposure let to a stable increase in veggie consumption.
How many exposures are needed to change a baby’s initial aversion? Some studies showed an effect already at the third exposure, and by the eighth exposure about 70 percent of babies liked a veggie they previously disliked.
Exposure to a variety of veggies seems to increase veggie intake in young kids in the 15 studies examining this strategy. When variety is piled on to repeated exposure the advantages are magnified.
Mom’s diet during pregnancy and after birth if she’s breastfeeding may expose her baby to the flavor of veggies very early, well before they eat their first mashed carrot. All the observational studies reviewed in this paper support a relationship between breastfeeding and veggie acceptance.
As to the age in which babies were fed their first veggies, this seems to have just a small effect on veggie affection,…