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Kids Ate 275% More Green Beans, 67% More Fruit, with Shrunken Main Course

Parents go to great lengths to come up with creative ways to get their kids to eat more fruit and vegetables. New research suggests a surprisingly simple solution: Shrink entree size! That’s what researchers at Pennsylvania State University found out when they tried serving smaller age-appropriate entree portions to children 3 to 5 years of age. Focusing on lunch intake over the course of six days, the study varied the sizes of a macaroni and cheese entree, accompanied by as much green bean and applesauce “side dishes” the kids wanted to consume. The result: When the smallest entree portions were served, kids ate 67% more applesauce and 275% more green beans!

The smaller entree trick would be a great boon to parents — and kids, who automatically consume more needed nutrients (and fewer unneeded calories) when the fruit and vegetable intake increases. Given that as many as 78% of American children under age 5 consume too few fruit and vegetables — and that more than 80% of teens are deficient in key nutrients, this simple strategy could yield big health benefits. Related research done at the University of Minnesota showed that compared to eating on white plates, kids with plates designed with colorful veggie pictures ate 309% more carrots and 228% more green beans. Try our colorful portion control plate from to see if vivid hues help your children eat more healthfully.

Other recipes for better nutrition? Involve kids with meal preparation — and even growing their own vegetables — to foster a better relationship with real food. Try eating more frequently as a family: Kids who do so not only have diets higher in a host of important nutrients — they are also less likely to suffer depression. Adding veggie puree to everyday dishes is another strategy for moderating calories while amping up nutrition. More fruit and vegetables not only support young bodies — but also young minds: Kids with the highest produce intake were found to be 60% more likely to pass standard literacy tests in one Canadian study.

Published May 1, 2012

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