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Feeding kids veggies early and often is best: 4 patterns

Harold Mandel's picture

Eating a lot of vegetables has been shown to really be beneficial for the healthy growth and development of kids. Yet, it is often difficult to get kids to develop a taste for vegetables. It appears from research that starting kids off on vegetables early in life and feeding them vegetables often is the best approach to helping to avoid problems with a desire to eat vegetables as they are growing up.

Vegetable consumption is often too low in kids

Vegetable consumption is far too often observed to be unusually low among young kids who are very fussy during their pre-school years reported PLOS One. It has been observed that repeated exposure to vegetables enhances consumption of a novel vegetable in early life. However, individual variations in response to familiarization have emerged from recent studies.

In this study four distinct patterns of eating behavior were defined during the exposure period. The breakdown was as follows:

1: Most kids were “learners” (40 percent) who increased consumption over time.

2: 21 percent consumed more than 75 percent of what was offered each time and they were labelled “plate-clearers.”

3: 16 percent were considered “non-eaters” who ate less than 10 g by the 5th exposure.

4: The remainder were classified as “others” (23 percent) since their pattern was highly variable.

Repeated exposure familiarizes kids with a novel food

Age was an important factor in predictions of eating patterns, with the older pre-school children being more likely to be non-eaters. The plate-clearers had more enjoyment of food and lower satiety responsiveness than non-eaters. The non-eaters scored the highest on food fussiness. It is felt that while repeated exposure familiarizes kids with a novel food, alternative strategies which focus on encouraging initial tastes of the target food might be necessary for the fussier and older pre-school children.

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The researchers think this is the first study which has investigated the role of individual variations in response to novel vegetable exposure. It has become clear that kids respond differently to repeated exposure to vegetables. It is therefore felt that recommendations aimed at improving vegetable consumption in kids should take account of individual variations. It's a good idea to introduce novel vegetables when kids are young during a period when novel foods are more easily accepted and prior to the onset of neophobia.

Food preferences are formed early in life

It has been observed that food preferences are formed early in life and are often fixed into adulthood. It is therefore very important that a healthy diet be established early. Although simply repeatedly exposing kids to vegetables might be effective for the majority of kids, for older and fussier children other approaches are necessary to improve acceptance. Some alternative approaches could include the use of dips and sauces in order to encourage fussy eaters to try the target food.

This research suggests exposing infants to a new vegetable very early in life encourages them to consume more of it in comparison to offering novel vegetables to older kids reports the University of Leeds. Professor Marion Hetherington and her research team also discovered that even fussy eaters are able to consume a little more of a new vegetable each time it is offered to them. This study which involved babies and children from the UK, France and Denmark, also hit the popular myth that vegetable tastes must to be masked or given secretly in order for kids to eat them.

Vegetables have significant health benefits

The issue of creating healthy eating habits in children is important. The United States Department of Agriculture highlights many significant health benefits of eating vegetables as follows:

1: Eating a diet which rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may lower risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.

2: Eating a diet which is rich in some vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may protect against certain types of cancers.

3: Diets which are rich in foods containing fiber, such as some vegetables and fruits, may decrease the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes

4: Eating vegetables and fruits which are rich in potassium as part of an overall healthy diet may lower blood pressure.

5: Eating foods such as vegetables which are lower in calories per cup instead of some other higher-calorie food may be very useful in helping to reduce calorie intake

It is a no lose situation for parents who value the health of their kids to always try to encourage healthy eating in their children. As this research points out if you want to be successful in helping your kids develop a taste for vegetables you should encourage them to eat vegetables starting early in life and often. Perhaps there should also be a movement to bring the cartoon Popeye back on TV often in order to help our kids get interested in eating vegetables early in life and often.