It is well known how difficult it is for many parents to get their children to eat vegetables. To try to find a solution to this, a group of researchers from the Institute for Food, Health & Safety by Design, Maastricht University Campus Venlo, in the Netherlands, recently conducted a study of a sample of children attending kindergartens in Limburg.
How to teach children to eat vegetables?
598 children between 1 and 4 years old were involved in the program “Grøntsagskassen”. The sample was randomly divided into three groups:
- exposure / reward;
- exposure / no reward;
The first two groups got the chance to try a variety of vegetables every day, they went to their daycare for three months. The kids in the “rewards” group received fun, non-food rewards, such as a toy sticker or a wreath, when they tried some vegetables.
Knowledge was measured by showing them the following 14 different vegetables: Tomato: Lettuce, Cucumber, Carrot, Paprika, Onion, Broccoli, Pea, Cauliflower, Mushroom, Green Bean, Chicory, Pumpkin, Asparagus. Each was then asked how many vegetables they could recognize. Knowledge of vegetables and willingness to taste them were measured at the beginning and end of the study. To measure consumption, each child was given the opportunity to:
- taste small chunks of six vegetables (tomato, cucumber, carrot, pepper, radish and cauliflower)
- count how many were willing to taste.
In the control group, the children could identify about 8 vegetables, and after the test, this ability had increased to about 10. For the groups “exposure / no reward” and “exposure / reward”, the children at the pretest could identify about 9 vegetables and after approx. 11. For willingness to try vegetables, the maximum score was 12. At the test, they were willing to try approx. 5-6 vegetables in all groups. This decreased in the “control” group, remained unchanged in the “exposure / no reward” group and increased towards 7 in the “exposure / reward” group.
When to start giving vegetables to children?
According to researcher Britt van Belkom, from the program Youth, Food & Health at the Institute for Food, Health & Safety by Design, Maastricht University Campus Venlo, in the Netherlands, it is important to consume vegetables from childhood. The reason, as confirmed by previous studies, is that young children need to try a new vegetable eight to ten times before they like it. The study conducted would lead to the conclusion that regularly offering children vegetables significantly increases their ability to recognize different vegetables, but delighting children to taste them also seems to increase their willingness to try different vegetables. However, the reward, the researchers emphasize, should not be food, but something fun.
Sources / Bibliography
- The secret behind getting children to get their greens revealed by Dutch researchers – EASONew research presented at this year’s congress has found that toddlers eat more vegetables if they are rewarded for trying them. Healthy eating habits can lower the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer. But as many parents know, young children often do not like to eat their greens. “It is important to start eating vegetables from […]
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