Photo by Peter Thoeny.
My oldest child will only eat one vegetable: carrots. (It used to be broccoli, but he's switched.) His little brother will only eat corn. Since veggies are good for kids, it would be great if we knew some foolproof way of getting kids to eat them. Science doesn't have solid answers, but it does give us some clues.
The scientists at the Cochrane Collaboration recently reviewed the evidence for different interventions that aimed to increase kids' fruit and vegetable intake. They only considered studies where some kids got the veggie-boosting scheme while others didn't, and where the researchers actually measured what kids ate.
There is good and bad news from this. The bad news is that nothing stood out as a surefire way to eat veggies. Even the studies that found a positive result were kind of iffy, which the Cochrane authors describe as "very low quality" evidence. These results may well get overturned with more research. But so far, these are the best we've got. Here are some of the interventions that resulted in kids eating a tiny bit more of their veggies:
- Babies were more likely to eat carrots, green beans, spinach, or broccoli when they had tasted the vegetables mixed into milk and into rice cereal for 12 days each.
- Children aged three to five were more likely to eat bell peppers after watching a video of a child eating bell peppers.
- Children aged three to five were more likely to choose vegetables over a granola bar when the veggies were packaged with cartoon character labels, and they had to wait an extra five minutes if they chose the granola bar.
Meanwhile, educating parents about nutrition didn't result in their children eating more fruits or vegetables, so just because you understand healthy eating doesn't mean your child will be on board with the veggies you're offering.
Only one study tested whether educating the kids themselves about nutrition helped them eat more of the healthy stuff. The researchers taught five and six-year-olds about MyPyramid for Kids (now replaced by MyPlate for Kids) and as a result they ate slightly more leafy vegetables and root vegetables. (These were the vegetables that the kids were already eating at the start of the study, so perhaps it just made them more enthusiastic about the healthy foods they already liked.) Without any similar studies to compare this one to, though, it's hard to know if this approach always results in kids eating more veggies.