Want Your Child to Eat More Vegetables? Use Dip
Children are sometimes picky eaters, but it isn’t always their fault. Researchers from the Temple University Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE) have found that the majority of children – 70% - have a sensitivity to bitter flavors which affect their taste for vegetables. But parents can encourage their children to eat more healthful produce by offering a low-fat dip to accompany their meal.
Scientists describe seven basic tastes: bitter, salty, sour, astringent, sweet, pungent, and umami (savory). A dislike of bitter things seems to come from the TAS2R38 gene, which encodes a G-protein receptor that controls the ability to taste glucosinolates, a family of bitter-tasting compounds.
Some scientists believe that humans have developed a dislike for bitter foods as a mechanism to prevent accidental poisoning. However, several healthful vegetables, particularly those in the Brassica family like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, have beneficial properties such as the ability to repair DNA and possible block the growth of cancer cells.
Jennifer Orlet Fisher, the director of the Family Eating Laboratory, and colleagues studied 152 pre-school aged children enrolled in Head Start, a program that provides a range of comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and family support services to at-risk children. The researchers first tested the kids’ preference toward bitter flavors by offering cups of fluid with increasing amounts of a bitter-tasting compound. Almost 3/4ths of the children described the water as “bitter or yucky.”
The children were then fed broccoli as a snack over a period of 7-weeks. The kids were more apt to eat the broccoli if they were offered a small cup of ranch dressing on the side. In fact, the acceptance and consumption of broccoli was increased by 80% when the kids were offered the dip.
"We know that children can learn to like vegetables if they are offered frequently, without prodding and prompting," said Fisher. "Children with a sensitivity to bitterness may avoid certain vegetables, but offering a low-fat dip could make it easier for those foods to become an accepted part of children's diet.”
Of course, parents can use a commercial dip for encouraging their children to eat more raw vegetables, but homemade dips can be easy to make and likely more healthy. Try combining a 16-ounce container of low-fat sour cream with a tablespoon of white vinegar, 2 tablespoons of minced fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons of minced fresh dill, 1 clove of garlic crushed, and 2 tablespoons of grated onion. Salt and pepper to taste; refrigerate for at least one hour.
Other dip ideas include applesauce, hummus, or a low-fat yogurt-based dip.
In addition to including a dip, another method for getting kids interested in vegetables is to create shapes or “flowers” or put a combination on a skewer like a kabob. Having a fun, colorful plate also makes kids more apt to enjoy healthy foods.