Children are notoriously picky eaters and many parents find it hard to get their children to eat more vegetables, which are important for growth and development. Now, a new study shows that repeatedly offering a variety of vegetables boosted the kids’ acceptance and consumption of healthy foods, such as vegetables.
A team of Australian researchers aimed to evaluate the efficacy of repeated exposure to multiple target vegetables in boosting kids’ consumption.
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Children, particularly, toddlers, may become picky during mealtime, and the problem is compounded by readily-available salty, high-fat, and sweet food products that often lack the needed recommended daily nutritional intake, letting parents surrender in providing healthier alternatives to their children.
Even though the daily recommended consumption of vegetables for children varies depending on the country, the dietary guidelines are quite similar. For instance, the American Heart Association, recommends that children should get 25 to 35-percent of their daily calories from low-fat food items, like vegetables, when they reach 4 years old.
“In Australia, dietary guidelines for vegetable consumption by young children have increased although actual consumption is low," Astrid Poelman from the CSIRO Agriculture & Food, Sensory, Flavour and Consumer Science, North Ryde, Australia, said. "This study introduces an effective strategy for parents wanting to address this deficiency,” she added.
High vegetable consumption is linked to a lower risk of developing chronic disease and mortality. In Australia, it is recommended that children between 4 and 7 years old should consume two servings of vegetables. The recommended daily intake recently increased to 4.5 servings for children who are 4 to 8 years old. However, the actual vegetable intake in the age group is just 1.2 servings.
Vegetable offering strategies
To arrive at their findings, which were published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, the researchers recruited 32 families with children who are 4 to 6 years old and where reports of low consumption of vegetables are present. The team asked the parents to answer an online survey and attend an information meeting before participating in the study.
From there, the researchers formed three groups – the first group included kids who were served a single vegetable, the second one served with multiple vegetables, and the third or control group continued with their usual diet.
The researchers measured through two dinner meals served at research facilities, a usual vegetable intake with a parent report and three-day weighed food records. The team acquired the data at baseline of the study period, and either immediately after the intervention, or at 3 months follow up, or both.
The more choices, the more they eat
The team found that there were no differences between the groups at baseline with vegetable intake. However, the usually vegetable consumption increased in the multiple target group from 0.6 to 1.2 servings and did not change in other groups.
The dinner meal, when children consumed their food without their parents, did not increase their intake due to an unfamiliar setting and the absence of their parents. However, those who received multiple or single vegetable serving had heightened acceptance of vegetables.
Surprisingly, the families that served multiple vegetables had greater consumption of servings, while there was no change in the intake of families that served a single vegetable, or those whose diets were not changed.
Children served with multiple vegetable choices accepted eating vegetables more than the others, and it was maintained during the first five weeks of the study, up to the three-month follow up.
The parents also reported that after they offered a variety of vegetables found it “very easy” or “quite easy” offering vegetables to their children.
“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,” Poelman added.
Low acceptance is the main reason for decreased vegetable intake among children. The study highlights the importance of exposing children to multiple vegetables simultaneously, which can be an effective method, instead of single vegetable serving, to boost their daily intake. The researchers recommend further studies and larger scale research to validate the efficacy of the method and to improve understanding of the importance of vegetable intake in children.
Poelman, A., Delahunty, C., Broch, M., and Graaf, C. (2019). Multiple vs Single Target Vegetable Exposure to Increase Young Children's Vegetable Intake. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. https://www.jneb.org/article/S1499-4046(19)30896-6/fulltext