The battle to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is one waging in many households across the world; you want your child to eat healthy and instilling good eating habits at a young age is important. But, try telling a child he needs to eat right to ensure his health and you will not get very far—this is not a very convincing argument for someone who has no idea what blood pressure or high cholesterol is, or the dangers of an unhealthy diet. But, not all hope is lost, and there are some ways that have been found to make children more amenable to eating those fruits and vegetables you so want to them to. With a little patience on your part, and perhaps a willingness to change up some of your current strategies, you may make some significant headway in this frustrating struggle.
Get Creative with Plate Design
Research suggest that food presentation appears to be a major factor in determining how adults eat and a 2012 study by researchers from Cornell University and London Metropolitan University indicates the same goes for young children. For the study, a group of children aged five to 12 were shown 48 different food combinations and were asked which ones they wanted to most eat; adults completed an online version of the study, looking at the same plate combinations.
It appears that children have very different visual preferences when it comes to their food and tailoring meals to meet these preferences may help in getting your child to eat a larger variety of healthy foods. The most desirable plate was fashioned into some sort of picture, consisted of seven different items in six different colors—these were both the highest number offered in both categories—and had the main component of the meal at the bottom of the plate. So, it seems that the more variety and the more colorful that variety is, the more likely it is your child will eat what is on that plate. Many studies have shown that increased variety leads to eating more junky foods like ice cream and potato chips and it appears that the same applies for healthy foods as well.
Considerations for Parenting Strategies
Of all the different tactics we employ to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, they tend to all fall into the broader categories of teaching moments, practical methods (making the food more palatable in some way), disciplinary approaches (no dessert without finishing the meal), restricting junk food in the house and increased access and availability. A study of 700 parents and children from Texas and Alabama sought to uncover which methods worked better than others.
The difference in consumption between the different groups was statistically significant and the winners appeared to be the parents who employed teaching moments, such as encouraging a child to try a new vegetable but not having to finish it or allowing the child to pick out fruits and vegetables they liked, and increasing access and availability of healthy foods. These approaches take a more proactive tack and aim to help a child adopt preferences for healthy foods, while disciplinary approaches, such as making a child eat his vegetables or no dessert, is coming from a negative place in that you are working against the dislike. The researchers said these firmer approaches are not only less likely to work, they may actually intensify the problem.
A British study that came out in May of 2012 suggests that the beverages you serve your child may influence his preferences for healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Researchers found that when children were given water, they ate more vegetables than when the food was served with sweetened drinks. There may be a couple of reasons for this. First, sweetened beverages such as soda are usually associated with unhealthier foods like greasy French fries and hamburgers and the vegetables may have seemed less desirable. Secondly, drinking water rather than soda with the vegetables may have made the vegetables taste better. To have your child see you enjoying healthy foods is a common piece of advice in addressing this problem and another British study appears to back that up—it found that children were more likely to try a food they previously expressed dislike for when they saw a smiling adult eat that same food.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who enjoys sharing tips on how to get kids to eat better; if you are looking for some creative meal ideas, check out Hamilton Beach recipes for a listing of kid-friendly foods, such as the Monkee Face Banana Cupcakes.
Photo Credit: Hungry Child by George Hodan