Trick: How To Get Your Children to Eat their Vegetables

When it comes to urging young children to eat healthy foods, most parents know the drill: We pretend to be airplanes, we sing songs with words rhyming with “broccoli,” and we sometimes resort to extolling the virtues of Popeye and his spinach dependency — all in an effort to get kids to eat their veggies.

A healthy diet remains an essential part of a child’s development. However, many children might not be so eager to pick up a piece of broccoli. Of course, they’d much rather have some candy or cake. But is it all just about the taste?

A study to be published in the October issue of Journal of Consumer Research found that children might be more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables if they didn’t know about the added health benefits.

“We predicted that when food is presented to children as making them strong or as a tool to achieve a goal such as learning how to read or count, they would conclude the food is not as tasty and therefore consume less of it,” said researchers Michal Maimaran of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, in a news release.

For their research, the study authors conducted five studies with children between the ages of three and five. All children in each of the studies were required to read a picture book story about a girl who ate a snack of crackers and carrots. However, depending the study, the book may not have explained the benefits of eating the snack.

Researchers found that children typically ate more of their snack when they did not know of the benefits of it from the story.

Telling children that food will help them achieve a goal, such as growing strong or learning to read, decreases preschooler’s interest in eating the food.

“The preschoolers seem to think that food can’t serve two purposes, that it can’t be something that makes them healthier and something that is delicious to eat at the same time,” Fishbach notes.  “So telling them that the carrots will make them grow tall (or make them smarter) actually makes them not want to eat the carrots. If you want them to eat the carrots, you should just give the kids the carrots and either mention that they are tasty or just say nothing.”

The researchers completed five experiments with 270 preschoolers in which an experimenter read picture stories about a girl who had some food for a snack. In some stories, she was interested in the food because it was good for her, in others she was interested because the food was tasty and in some stories, there was no reason mentioned in the story for why she was interested in the food. In each case, children ate more of a food when no reason for eating it was mentioned or when it was presented yummy, than they did when they thought the food were good for them.

In the future, researchers said they believe that these findings could be used to better market certain foods. By de-emphasizing the benefits of healthy products, children may be more likely to eat certain foods as well as experience a more enjoyable snack or meal that’s actually good for them.

Furthermore, getting children to eat more healthy foods can decrease the risk of certain health issues, including obesity and juvenile diabetes.

“Our study focused on very young children, and we should keep in mind that older children might rely less on taste when making food decisions due to higher self-control,” Fishbach adds. “On the other hand, we all know teenagers who only eat six foods, so it could turn out that their thinking is similar to their younger counterparts.”

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