Should children eat vegetables? Carrot and sticker is best

The secret to getting little kids to eat their healthy green veggies has been revealed — reward them, but don’t eat them. Instead, a sticker or toy will work.

Healthy eating habits can reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer, but as many parents know, young children often dislike eating green vegetables.

However, research to be presented today at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, shows there are tricks parents can use.

Researcher Britt van Belkom from the Youth, Food and Health program at the Institute for Food, Health and Safety by Design, Maastricht University Campus Venlo said: “It is important to start eating vegetables from a young age.

“We know from previous research that young children typically need to try a new vegetable eight to ten times before they like it.

“So we looked at whether repeatedly asking kids to try some veggies made them more willing to eat their veggies. We were also interested in whether providing a fun reward would make a difference.”

A total of 598 children aged one to four years in day-care centers in Limburg, the Netherlands, took part in the “Die Gemüsekiste” programme.

Ms van Belkom and colleagues randomly assigned them to one of three groups: exposure/reward, exposure/no reward, or control (no exposure/no reward).

The first two groups were given the opportunity to taste different types of vegetables every day for three months when they attended their daycare.

Those in the “rewards” group received fun non-meal rewards like a sticker or toy crown if they tried some vegetables.

Knowledge of vegetables and willingness to try them were measured at the beginning and end of the study.

Knowledge was measured by showing them 14 different types of vegetables and asking them how many they could name. The 14 were tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, onions, broccoli, peas, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, chicory, squash and asparagus.

Consumption was measured by giving them the opportunity to taste bite-sized pieces of six vegetables – tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, radishes and cauliflower – and counting how many they were willing to taste.

In the pre-test in the control group, the children were able to identify around eight types of vegetables. After the test, this rose to about 10. For the exposure/no reward and the exposure/reward groups, the children could identify about nine types of vegetables at the pre-test and after about 11.

The maximum score for willingness to try vegetables was 12. At the pre-test, they were willing to try around five to six types of vegetables in all groups. This decreased in the control group, remained unchanged in the exposure/no reward group, and increased to seven in the exposure/reward group.

Ms van Belkom said: “Regularly offering vegetables to toddlers in daycare significantly increases their ability to identify different types of vegetables.

“But rewarding toddlers for trying vegetables also seems to increase their willingness to try different vegetables.

“But the type of reward is very important – it should be fun, not food.”

The conference also heard how it was found that women aged 45 and under were more likely to gain weight during lockdown. Should children eat vegetables? Carrot and sticker is best

Fry Electronics Team

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