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

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?

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Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae

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81 comments

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12:54PM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

interesting

1:51AM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

Thank you for sharing

8:15PM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

interesting

8:20AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

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.

12:43PM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

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

8:44PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

3:44PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

Thanks

12:39PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

It´s always difficult with kids, glad I don´t have any, prefer pets :)

9:03AM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

No one wants to do anything when forced or lectured no matter what the age! When my kids were young, now 18 and 13, we had two food rules: two bites of everything on your plate and one new food a week. Usually the new food was from the produce department. Picking out some strange looking thing from the bins was a game to them! Sometimes they were a flop and were never eaten again, others we eagerly awaited to come back into season.I also let my kids help in the kitchen from a very young age (a 3 year old can easily tear lettuce for a salad). As my kids aged, they often shared and encouraged their friends to sample things from their lunchbox and at our house. Now our suburban garden is a source of pride for them. They choose, cook and enjoy a huge variety of foods and vegetables. I think entertainment and involvement is a much better approach than a scientific lecture to a toddler!

4:52AM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

When I was growing up in the 60's/70's, my Dad had two huge vegetable gardens but I never ate a vegetable until I was an adult. I guess I ate them when I was real small and then decided that I didn't like them anymore and that was that. My parents never forced me to eat them. Now I LOVE all veggies and the fruit/veggie market is where I do most of my shopping. My daughter wasn't really a picky eater and ate most things. We never really made a fuss about her needing to eat this or that - we just put in in front of her and she either liked it or she didn't. My six year old granddaughter loves all fruit and berries and prefers her veggies raw (a good thing) and the youngest, who is almost a year, will eat any veggie you put in front of her. She's never had baby food and nothing was ever pureed. It was mashed with a little breast milk to begin with and now she just gets chunks of various things to eat by herself.

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