How can you get your children to eat more veggies?

In a recent study done by Pensylvania State University, researchers found that filling half a child’s plate with fruits and veggies helps increase the amount of fresh produce that they eat.

There is a concern that children are not eating the recommended daily amount of fresh fruit and vegetables.  This research was designed to test two  strategies for encouraging preschoolers to eat more fresh produce. The first was simply adding 50 percent more to fruit and vegetable helpings at all meals during the day. The second was exchanging 50 percent more fruits and vegetables for an equivalent weight of the other foods. For example, if they added 50 grams of veggies to the midday meal,  they would subtract 50 grams of the meat component.

Findings were that adding more fruit and vegetable side dishes resulted in children eating 24 percent more veggies and 33 percent more fruit compared to the control menus. Substituting fruits and veggies for some of the other foods on the plate resulted in kids consuming 41 percent more veggies and 38 percent more fruit.

Barbara Rolls, director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State, said the results suggest ways of helping encourage healthy eating.

“When deciding what to feed kids, it’s easy to remember that half of the food should be fruits and vegetables,” Rolls said. “If you start seeing that you’re serving too much and have more waste, you could cut back the higher calorie-dense food while adding more produce. Experiment and have some fun trying different fruits and vegetables to see what they like and so you can serve meals with a sensitivity to their personal taste.”

Guidelines have encouraged people to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables but this strategy had never been tested in young children.  “For most foods, kids will eat more when served larger portions, so we wanted to test whether increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables that are served over five days would increase intake,” said Liane Roe, research nutritionist at Penn State. “We also wondered whether substituting produce for other foods would increase intake more than simply adding extra fruits and veggies.”

As a caution, Rolls said that even though the study was successful in getting preschoolers to eat more fruits and vegetables, the majority of the children still didn’t eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables for their age group—about a cup and a half—although they did reach this target for fruits.

The researchers said that in addition to the strategies in the current study, there are additional things parents and caregivers can do to increase intake.

“Serving fruits and vegetables as a first course or snacks when kids are hungry can boost their intake, as can incorporating them into mixed dishes,” Rolls said. “For example, you can blend some cauliflower or squash into a sauce for macaroni and cheese or add fruit puree into a brownie or cake mix. You don’t decrease the palatability of the dish, but the kids are eating more produce. You should also encourage them to eat the whole veggies on their own, as well as incorporating them into other foods.”

The study was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.






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