Kids are notoriously picky eaters, especially when it comes to the vegetables on their plates. But for parents who are tired from the constant uphill battle, there’s hope—new research from Aston and Loughborough Universities suggests it might only take three small steps to change a child’s attitude towards a food. The findings were published in the journal Appetite.
The researchers used three "food intervention" techniques, dubbed the three R’s, to determine the most effective formula for increasing children's liking for and consumption of vegetables. The first was repetition, or repeatedly exposing the child to certain food; the second was role modeling, or having the parent eat the food in front of the child; and the third was rewards, or praising the child for trying the new food.
The researchers placed 115 children between the ages of 2 and 4 in four separate groups, and gave them the same vegetable to taste every day for two weeks. Each group was exposed to a different combination of the techniques: repeated exposure; role modeling and repeated exposure; rewards and repeated exposure; or rewards, role modeling, and repeated exposure. The parents presented the children with the vegetables at home, and how much the children consumed was measured at the conclusion of the study.
Children introduced to rewards and repeated exposure or all of the three R’s ate more of a previously-disliked vegetable—and reported enjoying it more. Before the start of the study, they ate an average of 0.6g of the vegetable. After the study, the children exposed to the three R’s ate an average of 4g.
What makes the results of this study so crucial? “Eating more fruits and vegetables could prevent numerous cancers, stroke, diabetes and obesity,” Dr. Claire Farrow of the Aston Research Centre for Child Health said in a statement. So bring out the broccoli for dinner tonight (and if all else fails, bring out the stickers too—another recent study showed that making healthy food look more fun made kids more apt to eat it).