How to get your kids to eat more vegetables
Eating vegetables as part of a balanced diet is really important. Getting kids to eat more veggies, however, can be a real struggle for some families.
In fact, the recent National Health Survey indicated that very few Australian children actually meet the guidelines for vegetable consumption.
So, what is the secret to getting kids to eat more vegetables?
Australian researchers from Flinders University and CSIRO have recently discovered that the foundations for enjoying vegetables can be established even BEFORE a child is born.
Yes. You read that correctly. BEFORE the child is even born.
This new study highlights the link between the repeated exposure of vegetables in the maternal diet during pregnancy (as well as while breastfeeding) and the increased chance of children liking and eating them later in life.
The breakthrough study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and also notes that babies and children who are repeatedly (up to 10 times or more) exposed to a particular vegetable between six months and five years of age, can lead to an increased likelihood of them liking vegetables. The more they like vegetables the more they’ll eat them.
The article was based on evidence from 11 systematic reviews and existing international research around sensory and behavioural strategies that support children to like and consume vegetables.
For decades there has been strong scientific evidence that eating more vegetables and fruit has health benefits. The pile of evidence on the matter is only going to grow.
Vegetables, legumes, beans and fruit provide the body with vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, phytononutrients and antioxidants.
Consuming more vegetables across one’s lifespan can help protect against chronic diseases, such has heart disease and strokes. Consuming more vegetables and fruit also assists in preventing excessive weight gain, as these food groups are low in energy (kilojoules) when compared to other foods.
Considering that food preferences are largely impacted by a child’s diet during their first five years of life, it’s important to establish healthy eating habits and behaviours as early as possible. The better their eating and dietary habits the more support they’ll have for healthy growth and development.
But how do you get your kids to eat more veggies?
Here are some practical ways parents and caregivers can best support children in learning to enjoy and eat vegetables:
- Breastfeed, if possible, especially for the first 6-months.
- Offer vegetables as a first food and be sure to include bitter-tasting vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower as well.
- Offer a wide variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables, with repeated exposure. Let children know that scientists say it takes people more than 10 times to really know whether they like a particular food
- Use non-food rewards to encourage the eating of veggies.
- Avoid managing behavioural challenges with food. For example, try not to use food to calm an irritable or emotional child.
- Read your children vegetable-based story books.
- Have regular family meals and be a good role model. Research tells us, children eat new food ONLY when their parents sit down and eat that same new food also.
- Make sure the food is FUN and create a positive mealtime experience. Always use neutral or positive language at the table even when not talking about the food or meal.
- Involve children in food preparation and in all aspects of the meal, including clean up.
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– Diana D’Auria, Accredited Dietitian