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Getting children to eat their greens is one of many challenges parents face, but experts say bribery could be a ‘waste of time’.
The best way to get children to eat healthily is to simply give them repeated exposure to the food.
Researchers from Ghent University in Belgium said: “All parents know how difficult it is to get children to eat their greens, with many offering rewards or treats in return for children finishing their vegetables.
“In our tests all three strategies had a similar level of success, suggesting that a reward may not have a substantial impact on willingness to eat.”
A study of 154 nursery children found just over 95 per cent would eat a vegetable they did not like after just four weeks of being given it.
Researchers studied the children’s eating habits on 10 vegetables which were either steamed or boiled including: fennel, chicory, beetroot, courgettes, mushrooms, peas, leek, brussel sprouts, spinach and cauliflower.
The taste tests revealed that chicory was the least liked vegetable.
Children were split into three groups with one group asked to try the bowl of chicory repeatedly without encouragement while the other two groups were given rewards of stickers, a toy or verbal praise.
After the trial, 81 per cent of children who tried the chicory repeatedly liked it, compared to 68 per cent given a toy or sticker and 75 per cent given verbal praise.
According to the researchers, "these results highlight that repeated exposure remains the best way to establish a liking of a food.”
'Children should learn about where food comes from'
Natasha Gavin, founder of ‘I know why it’s yum, mum’, a social enterprise to improve children’s relationships with food, thinks children’s lack of knowledge about where food is grown, and what it looks and tastes like before being served is a possible reason for a rise in fussy eating, particularly with vegetables.
Ms Gavin, who has a diploma in nutrition, recommends that children are taught about where food comes from to increase their interaction with what they eat.
She said: “Families don’t grow their own food which is sad, especially when a child is amazed that food comes out of the ground. They don’t pick, they don’t touch and there is a lack of being in touch with where food is produced.”
She added: “Children become increasingly fussy as they get older, particularly when their communication skills develop to a point where they can be influenced by the opinions of parents and peers.
“Fussy eaters can often be convinced to just ‘try a bit’ rather than an insistence that everything ‘must be eaten’. Once again, it’s about taking little steps to overcome an often-intangible objection.”
The study is published in the science journal Food Quality and Preference. For more information visit: www.journals.elsevier.com/food-quality-and-preference