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How to inspire kids to eat more veggies

Two new studies may make it easier for moms to get their kids to eat – and enjoy – their greens.

health and fitness Updated: Jul 18, 2012 15:12 IST

Two new studies may make it easier for moms to get their kids to eat and enjoy their greens.

Both studies were conducted by Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) president Brian Wansink, PhD, the John Dyson Professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University, and funded by Birds Eye, the country’s leading vegetable brand that recently launched a three-year campaign to inspire kids to eat more veggies.

The first study of 500 mothers with young children found that vegetables helped enhance the perceived taste of the entree and made the meal appear to be more complete. The presence of vegetables on the plate also made the meal preparers appear to be more thoughtful and attentive.

“These findings underscore the concept that vegetables make the meal. Vegetables do so much more than provide important nutrients, they’re helping to make the entire meal more appealing and even making the person serving the meal appear to be more loving and caring,” Wansink said.

The second study reinforced the idea that parents may be giving up too early if they claim their kids don’t like vegetables. Instead, Wansink said it’s better to focus on the vegetables kids will eat, and not on the ones they won’t.

Interviewing an ethnically diverse panel of 500 mothers with two children, Wansink and colleagues had participants identify the favourite vegetable of each child along with their own, and the menu of the five most frequently eaten meals in their homes.

The results indicated that 83 percent of the children in the study had a favourite vegetable their mother could easily name, and 53 percent of the oldest children had the same favourite vegetable as their mother. There were six vegetables that composed 80 percent of the favourites:

Corn (32.2percent) – the favourite for boys
Broccoli (29.4 percent) – the favourite for girls
Carrots (23.2 percent)
Green beans (17.2 percent)
Potatoes (11.8 percent)
Tomatoes (11.4 percent)

The five most popular dinner meals for children were pastas, tacos, hamburgers, meat balls and pork chops. Broccoli was the most preferred vegetable for children and mothers, except for the youngest male children.

“Children may not like all vegetables all of the time, but they may like some vegetables some of the time,” Wansink said.

“Keep serving the vegetables that kids prefer and don’t be discouraged if they turn up their noses at other vegetables. They may eventually like them if you continue to offer them, and if they see you enjoy them, too. But celebrate these little victories and find ways to modify meals to accommodate your kids’ favourite vegetables,” he added.

The studies were presented at the SNEB’s annual conference.

First Published: Jul 18, 2012 14:36 IST