In our house, we have sort of a love-hate relationship with vegetables. As a vegetarian mom, I love them. And as a super-picky eater, one of my sons has always hated them!
When Ben was younger, I used to look for ways to sneak veggies into his food. I hid cauliflower in his macaroni and cheese. I mixed carrots in his smoothies. I even baked spinach into brownies. Sometimes, he ate them. Mostly, though, he took a bite, frowned and asked, “What did you just put in my food?”
While hiding healthy food is certainly one way to increase the amount of vegetables our kids eat, it’s not the only way. In fact, promoting a love of vegetables – in their original form! – is clearly an important goal.
In addition to the vitamins and minerals that vegetables provide, they also combat obesity because they’re filled with fiber (which can help us feel full), and are low in calories.
Recognizing the importance of eating and enjoying vegetables is obvious.
Yet, according to Jennifer S. Savage, associate director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Penn State, fewer than 10 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 8 years of age consume the USDA recommended daily serving of vegetables – which is at least one and a half to two cups every day. What’s more, over one-third of young children don’t eat any vegetables on a daily basis.
That’s a startling statistic.
So what can parents and caregivers do to increase veggie consumption?
According to a recent report published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Savage and her colleagues worked with 34 children between the ages of 3 and 5 to find some answers.
The researchers first took note of the children’s likes and dislikes regarding a variety of vegetables – carrots, celery, cucumbers, green beans, red peppers and yellow squash. After tasting each veggie, the children were shown pictures of three cartoon faces and asked to pick which one best showed how they felt about each food. They could choose between “yummy,” “just okay,” and “yucky.”
Then, the children were reintroduced to the same vegetables, but this time they were offered five dips along with the veggies – a plain Miracle Whip-based dip, as well as pizza, ranch, herb and garlic. Their likes and dislikes were then reassessed.
The findings suggest that offering dips with veggies can increase a child’s likelihood of eating and enjoying it. For example, while 31 percent percent of kids labeled a vegetable on its own to be “yummy,” this number rose to 64 percent when paired with a flavored dip.
On the other hand, 18% of the children refused to eat some vegetables on their own, but this number dropped to 6% when that veggie was paired with a flavored dip.
While offering veggies and dip may not turn your child into a veggie lover, it may be worth a try. The key is to keep trying new ways to introduce healthy food, and to create a positive and encouraging environment at your family’s table.
Looking for some additional inspiration? Here are a few websites that offer great suggestions and delicious ideas: