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