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Researchers Identify How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables


Most kids have probably hidden broccoli in a napkin or fed steamed cabbage to the dog to get out of eating their vegetables, driving their parents to throw up their hands and wonder how to get children to eat the types of foods they need to eat. While it's clear that American kids need to eat more fruits and vegetables, parents and kids alike may experience frustration at the dinner table. New research shows what parents can do to get their kids to eat healthy foods.

American children are at risk of becoming obese and overweight in record numbers. With extra weight comes chronic health problems, including hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Doctors who used to see these obesity-related health problems almost exclusively in overweight and obese adults are diagnosing more and more children each day. Experts agree that a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables is essential for optimal health for children and adults. Parents may agree but also wonder how to convince their kids to try the steamed spinach.

Researchers from the School of Psychological Science of La Troube University based in Melbourne, Australia, tracked 60 mother-children pairs for approximately a year. They enrolled the dyads when the children were one year of age and asked the mothers to complete a questionnaire. The mothers completed the questionnaire again when the children turned two years old.

The questionnaire detailed the children’s height and weight. Mothers also reported the children’s intake of fruits, vegetables and sweet foods. Mothers noted the practices they engaged in to offer and encourage their children to eat fruits and vegetables.

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The researchers found that the children whose mothers pressured them to eat fruit at one year of age ate less fruit at two years of age. Mothers who modeled healthy eating practices by consuming fruits and vegetables in front of their children, however, increased their own children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables. In other words, mothers who set a positive example increased their children’s healthy food habits more frequently than mothers who pressured their children to consume healthy foods.

Parents who eat meals with their children have the opportunity to model healthy eating habits. Kids watch what their parents do, and adopt the behaviors they witness. Telling kids to eat their fruits and vegetables is less effective than setting a positive example.

Children should consume five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, according to Let’s Move!, First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to improve the health of American children. In addition to modeling healthy eating behavior, parents should involve their children in shopping for fruits and vegetables or involving their children in planting and maintaining a garden if possible. Offer fruits and vegetables as snacks throughout the day. Include vegetables in dinner entrees, such as chili and casseroles. Frozen and canned vegetables provide budget-friendly options throughout the year.

"Maternal feeding practices predict fruit and vegetable consumption in young children. Results of a 12-month longitudinal study"; Appetite; August 2011
Let's Move.gov; Healthy Families

Image credit: Morguefile



I completely agree with parents modeling healthy eating behavior themselves, which goes further in promoting the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains with kids much more than "punishing" them for not eating right. One way parents can promote healthy eating habits is to consistently have family meals together. It not only helps with eating behaviors, but also with other problems that face growing kids these days like smoking and drugs.
And make family dinners fun too!
And being aware of what the children are consuming at school is very important. Most school food is not as nutritious as the local fast food restaurant. The school food where I live is usually some variation of fast food--and many foods come in wrappers. Of course, there is the choice of a fresh fruit--but children usually overlook ithe real food in favor of the candy ice cream bar. Fresh fruit and vegetables cannot compete with real food because processed fast food is so addictive--and is geared to those survival tendencies to overeat. The children of this country are becoming corporate fast food slaves by the time they leave first grade. Parents need to be aware of what is happening in most of the nation's schools. If it's anything like here, it's horrendous. We must love our children enough to feed them real foods. Thanks for this article. We need many more like it.