Cartoons, Parties Increase Children's Vegetable Intake

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Would you like your children to eat more vegetables? Researchers say children aged four to five are more likely to increase their intake of vegetables when they are exposed to cartoons, parties, and other multimedia that promote healthy foods.

Getting Children to Eat More Vegetables
Parents often try a variety of ways to get their children to eat more healthy foods, including vegetables. Some “hide” chopped vegetables in soups, pasta, and sauces, while others go so far as to put pureed vegetables into peanut butter, sweetened oatmeal, or smoothies. Yet according to some experts, sneaking vegetables into children’s food will never allow them to learn to like these foods because they will never develop a taste for the real vegetables.

A team of researchers at Mahidol University in Bangkok tried a more direct approach. They studied 26 kindergarten children over a eight-week period and recorded the types and amounts of fruits and vegetables the children ate before and after a multimedia program they had prepared.

The program consisted of focused exposure to vegetables and fruits, including having the children plant vegetable seeds, holding vegetable and fruit tasting parties, cooking vegetable soup, and watching Popeye cartoons. The children’s parents were also sent letters asking them to encourage their children to eat vegetables and fruit. During lunch at school, teachers sat with the children to act as role models of healthy eating.

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By the end of the eight-week study, the researchers found that the children had increased their intake of vegetables twofold and had increased from two to four the types of vegetables they would eat. The children also talked about vegetables more often, and they felt proud they had eaten them as part of their lunch.

The lead researcher, Professor Chutima Sirikulchayanonta, noted that while vegetable consumption increased, there was no significant difference in the amount of fruit the children ate before the study compared with after the trial. The lack of impact on fruit consumption was attributed to the children already eating more fruit than vegetables at the beginning of the study.

As a result of the study, the researchers also discovered that sitting with children and eating vegetables and other healthy foods with them makes children feel special. Children also enjoy food tasting parties as well as activities that allow them to prepare foods. These and other experiences with vegetables, including cartoons and getting parents to act as role models, can have a major positive impact on children’s food choices.

SOURCES:
Fulmer M. Picky eaters, sneaky parents. Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2008
Sirikulchayanonta C et al. Nutrition & Dietetics 2010; 67(2): 97

This page is updated on May 18.

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