Children Choose and Eat More Produce When it Tastes Better
How do you get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? Make them taste better! It seems simple, but researchers from Harvard School of Public Health have shown great taste and a little patience may be all it takes. Students in grades three through eight from four schools in Massachusetts were served innovative and delicious school meals prepared by a professional chef, while students in ten other schools continued to receive standard school lunches. After seven months of eating chef-prepared food, a child’s odds of selecting fruit increased threefold, and children ate almost 21% more of the fruit on their plates. Odds of selecting vegetables went up as much as seven times in schools with a chef, while consumption of vegetables more than doubled. Recipes that students enjoyed included vegetarian chili, sautéed kale with ginger, sweet potato salad, and turkey pineapple stir-fry.
According to CDC, more than 36% of American children eat fruits and vegetables less than once a day, while the USDA recommends children eat between three and four cups of produce every day. Though you may not have the power to bring a chef into your child’s cafeteria, there are some techniques you can adopt at home to encourage your whole family to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Pack on the Flavor: Many kids (and adults) simply don’t enjoy the tastes of some vegetables. Until a child learns to appreciate the bitter taste of Brussels sprouts or the spicy kick of a radish (yes, it can happen!) there is nothing wrong with adding flavors you know your child likes. A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on broccoli, soy sauce on asparagus or fresh ginger on steamed greens may be all it takes to turn your child into a veggie-lover.
Cook Like You Mean It: Cooking methods can alter the taste and texture of fruits and vegetables—often for the better to a child. “Some kids just don’t like the texture of certain vegetables” explains Chef Mark Allison, Director of Culinary Nutrition at the Dole Nutrition Institute. “Try roasting vegetables to make them crisp, and add a drizzle of olive oil or a shake of Parmesan cheese. This was the only way I could get my boys to eat Brussel sprouts and parsnips!” Roasting cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts tames their strong bitter flavors, while grilling fruit like bananas and pineapples evokes an extra sweetness that kids will love.
Focus on “DO”: Emphasize what your child should eat, not what to avoid. A study from Cornell University found that people respond better to positive rather than negative messages on health. Instead of telling your child he can’t have ice cream because it’s unhealthy, reinforce that a dessert like our style="font-weight: lighter;">Frozen Banana Pops offers both sweetness and nourishment.
Be Persistent: Don’t give up – it takes kids awhile to adjust to new foods. In the same study from Harvard, children needed seven months to adapt before eating more vegetables and fruits. If your child says “no” to spinach at dinner tonight, try again tomorrow. Over time, kids and adults can learn to accept new foods and to love eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
Published July 1, 2015