Want Kids to Eat Their Vegetables? Don’t Tell Them About the Health Benefits

We all know vegetables are good for us, and when it comes to feeding children, we want to ensure that they get ample amounts of vegetables into their diet. But sometimes that can be a struggle, and there are a variety of strategies for encouraging kids to eat the green stuff on the plate in front of them. Telling them about how much good that broccoli will do for them, however, is probably not the best option.

That’s the finding of a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, which shows that trying to sell kids on the nutritional benefits of vegetables is not the way to go if we want to make sure they eat them. The researchers propose the theorem that “young children infer from messages on food instrumentality that if a certain food is good for one goal, it cannot be a good means to achieve another goal.”

Call it a child’s vegetable logic, and it means that if you offer up a carrot and talk about how good it is for the child’s health they will take that to mean that it’s not going to taste good. It’s not just the fact that the vegetable is being sold as healthy, it’s that it’s serving any goal beyond taste. So if you say “this food will make you stronger” or “this food will make you grow tall,” you’ll end up with the same result.

“If food is presented as making them strong, or as instrumental to a non health goal, such as knowing how to read, these children will conclude that the food is not as tasty and will therefore consume less of it, compared to when the food is presented as tasty or with no accompanying message,” wrote the researchers.

They found that “simply serving the food,without giving any message about the goal eating it might serve, maximizes consumption of healthy (e.g., carrots) or neutral (e.g., crackers) food items.”

The study was done on 3 to 5 year olds, which means now you know exactly which strategy to use at the dinner table; place that plate of broccoli and spinach in front of the child with no comment at all. And while you’re at it, maybe start talking about how tall junk food is going to make them and see if that gets them eating more fruits and vegetables instead?

Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae

84 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks for the article.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russellabout a year ago

Thank you

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russellabout a year ago

Thank you

Leia P.
Leia P.2 years ago

interesting

Rhonda B.
Rhonda B.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Vicky P.
Vicky P.2 years ago

interesting

Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron2 years ago

Start them out young. Once in a while I watch a girl who LOVES her veggies (demands a supreme pizza every time they have pizza (about once a month)), the reasons a) her mother started her out young, her first foods, baby food and solids, were veggies, b) her mother keeps a wide variety of colors available, and c) her mother feeds her a wide variety of types and tries not to repeat the same type in a 48 hour period.

Didn't have to try and convince her, or trick her, to get her to eat them.

Julia Oleynik
Julia Oleynik2 years ago

Let's see when I'll have children. Thank you for sharing :)

Janis K.
Janis K.2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Lisa Millar
Past Member 2 years ago

Thanks