WHAT’S the best way to get your kid to eat more vegetables? Smother the broccoli in sauce, cut cucumbers into fun shapes, or ban dessert until they’ve eaten their spinach?
A new study reveals what could be the best approach – simply teach them about nutrition.
Scientists from Stanford University in the US have found that even very young children can benefit from a conceptual framework that encourages them to understand why eating a variety of foods is healthy, the researchers said. The result: kids eat more vegetables by choice.
“Children have natural curiosity – they want to understand why and how things work,” the researchers explained. “Of course we need to simplify materials for young children, but oversimplification robs children of the opportunity to learn and advance their thinking.”
Researchers Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman developed five storybooks aimed at revising what children already know about various nutrition-related themes, such as dietary variety, digestion, food groups, and nutrients.
In a study involving more than 160 children between the ages of four and five, the researchers assigned some preschool classrooms to read nutrition books during snack time for about three months, while other classrooms were assigned to conduct snack time as usual. Later, the children were asked questions about nutrition.
Findings showed that the children who had been read the nutrition books were more likely to understand that food had nutrients, and that different kinds of nutrients were important for various bodily functions (even functions that weren’t mentioned in the books), the researchers said. They were also more knowledgeable about digestive processes, understanding, for example, that the stomach breaks down food and blood carries nutrients.
These children also more than doubled their voluntary intake of vegetables during snack time after the three-month intervention, whereas the amount that the control group ate stayed about the same.
Further research is needed to determine whether the conceptual intervention encourages healthy eating habits outside of snack time and whether it’s effective over the long-term, the researchers said.
The study, announced July 1, appears online in the journal Psychological Science.
A separate 2010 conducted by researchers from Penn State in the US found that increasing the amount of vegetables in the first course of preschool lunch could be a clever way to get children to eat more vegetables. – AFP Relaxnews