Parents have long poured on cheese sauce,
peanut butter and the like to coax kids to eat their vegetables, but a new
study suggests those tricks might also get children to look more favourably at
the vegetables themselves.
Preschoolers introduced to Brussels sprouts
alongside cream cheese to spread on the bitter vegetable more often said they
liked the sprouts and ate more of them, even when later served plain.
The strategy of pairing something new with
something a person already likes is known as associative conditioning and could
be helpful in encouraging kids – and adults – to eat more fruits and
vegetables, the authors say.
"This has the potential to change the
eating habits of children, including eating more vegetables, and this in turn
will affect childhood obesity," said Elizabeth Capaldi-Phillips, a
psychologist at Arizona State University and lead author of the study.Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
In the study, parents of 29 children
between the ages of three and five years old filled out a survey about the
kids' views of 11 vegetables, including whether they liked or disliked the
vegetable, or had never tried it.
Read: Vegetative brains show awareness
Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts were among
the vegetables most children had not tried, and were selected as the ones used
to gauge children's preferences in the study.
The children were given either cauliflower
or Brussels sprouts once per day for seven days, and ate in a group of five or
six children that was led by a researcher or teacher. The vegetables were all
boiled, then were either served plain, with unsweetened cream cheese or with
sweetened cream cheese.
After this conditioning period, the kids
were given the vegetables plain.
Getting used to the taste
The researchers found that children given
Brussels sprouts with cream cheese during conditioning liked them significantly
more than those given plain sprouts.
Less than one in five kids given plain
sprouts said they liked the vegetable, whereas about two-thirds of kids who got
sprouts with either type of cream cheese said they liked the vegetables.
The children liked milder, non-bitter
cauliflower more overall, and about equally whether or not it was served with
After the conditioning period, when
children were given the plain vegetables, those who had previously said they
"liked" Brussels sprouts ate more of them than kids who had expressed
Read: Eating vegetables may protect pancreas
Although previous research has found that
kids need to try some new foods eight to 10 times before they get used to the
taste, the children in the study tried the new vegetables only seven times
before they would eat them plain, the authors point out.
Developing food preferences at a young age
Such a flavour-pairing strategy could work,
not only for Brussels sprouts, but other vegetables and foods of other kinds,
"Children develop food preferences at
a young age, yet tend to be really picky at this age, so it's important to
sustain healthy habits which will persist into adulthood," Devina Wadhera,
also a researcher at Arizona State University and the study's other author,
told Reuters Health.
"It's our job as parents, as educators
to get them to accept new foods at this time," she wrote in an e-mail.
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