Scientists have finally uncovered the secret to getting kids to eat their vegetables and it doesn’t involve rewarding them.
Whether you hoodwink your little ones into eating their veg by burying them in a blitzed-up pasta sauce or you promise them a treat in return for eating their greens, getting children to eat their vegetables is one of the biggest parenting challenges.
And according to researchers we’ve been tackling it all wrong.
Instead of rewarding their children for eating greens, parents should simply give them repeated exposure to it, a new study, published in the science journal Food Quality and Preference, has revealed.
Psychologists from Ghent University in Belgium studied 98 pre-school children on 10 vegetables that were either steamed or boiled – fennel, chicory, zucchini, mushrooms, peas, leeks, Brussels sprouts, beetroot, spinach and cauliflower.
The taste tests revealed that chicory was the least-liked vegetable among youngsters.
The children were then given a bowl of steamed chicory and told to choose how much to eat, while not sharing with other classmates.
After eight minutes, they were asked to rate the dish as “yummy”, “just OK” or “yucky” using cartoon facial expressions.
The trial went on twice a week for a month, with a follow-up taste test after eight weeks.
Children were split into three groups, with one group asked to try the bowl of chicory repeatedly with no further 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 simply tried the chicory repeatedly liked it, compared with 68 per cent given a toy or sticker and 75 per cent given verbal praise.
Overall the trial revealed that the children repeatedly offered vegetables were more likely to eventually eat them as those given rewards.
Commenting on the findings the study team 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.
“The results highlight that repeated exposure remains the best way to establish a liking of a food.”
It’s not the first time science has tried to offer a helping hand to parents struggling to get their children to eat the good stuff.
Last summer an Australian study revealed that it’s all about how you present vegetables on the plate.
Rather than making them as small as possible, you should serve them whole.
Researchers from Deakin’s Centre for Advanced Sensory Science found that children ate more carrots off their plates when given them whole, as opposed to serving them up pre-diced.
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