Need Your Kid to Eat Her Veggies? Give Her an Appetizer.
If you’re wondering how to get kids to eat vegetables, the answer might be as simple as: Give them the veggies first.
A new study out of the University of Minnesota gives hope to parents everywhere frustrated with getting kids to eat vegetables. It found that offering vegetables to children prior to a meal, with no other food options, resulted in greater spontaneous eating of vegetables.
On the control day, elementary school students followed their typical lunch routine: They sat at a class table upon entering the cafeteria, before going through the lunch line, which offered milk, cups of fruits and vegetables (carrots), and an entree. At the end of the line, students were given the opportunity to take second helpings of fruits and vegetables. Less than 12% of kids chose carrots.
Three months later, the researchers switched it up; the cups of carrots were placed on the class table as kids entered the cafeteria so kids could eat them while waiting to go through the lunch line.
The result was a 430% increase in vegetable-eating.
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“For vegetables, their mere presentation in a multi-food context may do little to motivate intake because people opt instead to consume more of the better-liked items,” the authors wrote.
But before trying this at home as a way of getting kids to eat vegetables, there are a few things to note: Researchers worked with the cafeteria staff to identify carrots as a “mildly liked” vegetable among the children. This tactic probably won’t work with a vegetable that your kid truly loathes (query as to why you’d continue trying to feed your kids something she truly loathes anyway).
Second, the study didn’t hold the rest of the food ransom until children finished their vegetables, nor were the kids given explicit instructions to eat the vegetables; rather, the carrots were on offer first, in isolation, and easily accessible at a time when the kids were hungry and unengaged. So the study seems to suggest that simply coursing out children’s meals, so that they get the foods they like less first, may help in getting them to consume more of those foods.
Finally, as we’ve reported before on the site, getting kids to eat the veggies you set before them — whether as a first course or part of the meal — will probably work better if they see you eating the veggies, too.