Sunday, June 28, 2009

Getting kids to eat their veggies

Vegetables were probably never that big in the human diet. We evolved eating meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, fruits, tubers, fungi, berries and insects because that’s where the kilojoules are. When you need energy (kJs/Cals) each day to survive, why bother eating a leaf (lettuce), a flower (broccoli) or something else that is mainly water? Add the fact that 10,000 years ago you never met your grandparents and anyone reaching the age of 30 was seriously old. Back then you weren’t eating to avoid the diseases of aging, such as cancer. You were eating to survive.

So what’s the point you are making?
Simply that humans didn’t evolve as big veggie eaters, so it is no real surprise that we still aren’t big veggie eaters. Sure, we have undeniable evidence that vegetables provide nutrients and bio-active compounds and that eating them helps us control our appetite, reduce our risk of heart disease and some cancers. They are very useful attributes as good-living folk should expect to live, on average, until they are 80-85 years old, not the 30-35 year life span of yesteryear.

Children & vegetables
When I talk to parents, I explain that enjoying vegetables does not come natural with most kids (or adults). Many vegetables are bitter, astringent or just plain bland. All parents know that veggies can be disguised in meatloaf, pasta sauce, stews, soups and the like. Recently a journal article suggested there is another tip that we could employ to swing a child towards a particular vegetable.

Researchers at the University of California told students (average age 20 yrs) that after conducting a series of interviews with them, they now had a good profile on their food preference as a young child, determining whether they either really loved or really hated a particular food when it was first consumed. They were also asked to rate their enjoyment of each food today. Three weeks after the interviews, the students were asked back, where they were given their “personalised food preference profile”. Unknown to them, it included one false statement.

It’s just a little white lie
Those with the false statement that they had loved to eat a specific vegetable as a child, actually started to believe it. They felt much more positively about the vegetable and were more likely to order and eat it. The improved positive view of the vegetable continued for at least two weeks even though they had been told only once, falsely, that they loved the vegetable as a kid.

What does it all mean?
With less than 5% of children eating the designated amount of vegetables each day, it is important that parents remain continually positive around veggies and salad. Parents might also include the line “You just loved tomato/peas/pumpkin when you were a baby. Couldn’t get enough of it”. Saying that a few times (not just once) just might entice that child to include it in their menu, without coercion. It certainly won’t hurt.

Reference: Acta Psychologica 2008; 129: 190-197

1 comment:

Matt Hern said...

That's a handly little tip, Glenn, thanks. I'll try it on Sophie.

Another thing I've tried is to get Sophie (pre-schooler) to eat things that her 14month old brother is gobbling down. Starting peer pressure at a young age.