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Updated 13 September 2019

Want your kids to eat more veggies? Offer them a variety

A study shows that offering children a variety of vegetables could help them form preferences and an increase acceptance of this food group.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get children to make better choices with regard to their eating habits.

Although there is a lot of expert advice available as well as a list of do's and don'ts, it can be quite tricky to put them into practice. Studies have now shown that the key to getting children to eat more veggies is simply to offer them a variety to choose from. 

Different strategies

The study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Education and Behavior, looked at 32 families with children between the ages of four and six and who had reported low consumption of vegetables.

The parents were required to complete a survey online and attend an information meeting before they participated in the study. Then children were split into three groups, namely: children introduced to a single vegetable, children who received multiple vegetables, and a group of children whose eating habits remained unchanged.

In order to collect study for the data, different methods were used:

  • Two dinner meals served at the research facility where children could eat as much of the broccoli, green beans and cauliflower as they wished.
  • Changes to vegetables consumed at home, childcare or school recorded by means of a food diary
  • Parents reporting on usual vegetable consumption

The strategies used to offer vegetables to children were led by parents and home based. Families that introduced one vegetable served broccoli, and families who introduced a variety of vegetables served broccoli, zucchini and peas.

The parents who participated were given a voucher to purchase the vegetables and were then given instructions on how to prepare them, portion sizes and tips on how to offer the vegetables to children. The children were served a small amount of a vegetable three times a week for five weeks. For trying a vegetable, children were given a sticker as a reward. 

Low actual consumption

It was found that there were no differences between groups at the start of the study for any of the methods measured. The dinner meal, where the children ate without their parents, did not increase consumption of vegetables which could have been the result of an unfamiliar setting. Vegetable acceptance increased for both the single and multiple vegetable groups during the intervention.

Families who offered multiple vegetables recorded that there was an increase in consumption from .6 servings to 1.2 servings, while there were no changes in consumption in families who served a single vegetable or did not change their eating habits. Over the five week period, there was an increase in families who offered a variety of vegetables.

Astrid A.M. Poelman, PhD and lead author of the study said, "In Australia, dietary guidelines for vegetable consumption by young children have increased, although actual consumption is low. This study introduces effective strategy for parents wanting to address the deficiency." She continued to say, "While the amount of vegetables eaten increased during the study, the amount did not meet dietary guidelines. Nonetheless, the study showed the strategy of offering a variety of vegetables was more successful in increasing consumption than offering a single vegetable."

Image credit: iStock

 
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