Health & Science

More Vegetables May Be the Cure For Picky Eaters

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Not sure how to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Many parents are at a loss, but the results of this new study from Australia might point you in the right direction. The research shows that offering multiple kinds of vegetables at one meal increased children’s overall vegetable intake, versus only providing one variety.

In the study, which focused on four- to six-year-olds who were not very keen on vegetables, some families were instructed to stick with offering one vegetable (such as broccoli), while other families were told to serve three types (such as broccoli, zucchini, and peas). And among the kids who were offered multiple vegetables at once, vegetable consumption increased significantly—from 0.6 servings to 1.2 servings on average. Plus, the increased enthusiasm for vegetables was still present when researchers followed up with families three months later!

Variety plus patience might be the winning combination for parents to try.

Often parents are told to simply keep making their kid try same vegetable multiple times in a row. And it’s true, just because a kid doesn’t eat zucchini once or twice doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a lost cause. Multiple studies have shown that introducing a new food at least 5 to 10 times, or up to 15 times, even if the child has said they dislike it, can lead to them liking it eventually.

But according to this new research, variety is another big piece of the vegetable-acceptance puzzle. Offering choices of different healthy foods at a meal may help give children a sense of autonomy at meal times. Parents also gave children in the Australian study a sticker for each new vegetable they tried, so positive reinforcement can help, too.

The researchers did have a caveat. “While the amount of vegetables eaten increased during the study, the amount did not meet dietary guidelines,” said the lead author, Astrid Poelman of the CSIRO Agriculture & Food, Sensory, Flavour and Consumer Science in Australia. According to USDA dietary guidelines, four- and five-year-olds should be eating 1.5 to 2 cups of vegetables per day—which may seem like an unattainable goal for parents of picky eaters. But anything parents can do to increase vegetable intake even a little bit is a win for the whole family!

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.