6 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Their Vegetables, According to Science

These tactics can help even the pickiest of eaters tuck into their greens.

get kids to eat vegetables

You want your child to be healthy, but not even the Jolly Green Giant could persuade your picky eater to eat his or her broccoli. It's a dilemma most parents face — but maybe science could help!

Researchers have been looking at what influences children's choices when it comes to food, and the results just might surprise you. Read on for their best tips for getting your kiddos to fill up their plates with the good stuff.

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1 Make 'Em Colorful

It's no secret that the visual appeal of food affects whether or not we want to eat it — but did you know that children prefer different colors and food arrangements than adults do?

A small January 2012 study from the Cornell University found that kids are attracted to plates that contain as many as six colors while adults adults will be drawn to plates with just three. This is something candy ;companies know well — open a packet of M&Ms, for example, and you'll find six colors inside.

"What kids find visually appealing is very different to parents," lead study author Brian Wansink, PhD, a professor of marketing at Cornell, . "Unfortunately, when we parents plate food for kids, we do it in a way that is appealing to us and not to them."

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2 Offer Variety

The same study from Cornell found that kids like to have seven different foods on their plate, while adults are OK with just three. So if you want to encourage your picky eater to tuck into a healthy dinner, be sure to offer them some serious variety.

Dr. Wansink said children also find food placed in a figurative design more appealing.

Instead of mixing vegetables into a meal, try placing them in separate piles. Serve chicken with separate mounds of sweet corn, peas, broccoli, carrots, pasta, and tomato sauce, and they'll be more likely to try everything on their plate — in theory, at least.

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3 Serve Vegetables First

You give a kid a beef burger with a side of fries and peas or a slice of pizza with a side of broccoli and — surprise, surprise — the vegetables don't get touched. The problem is that you're putting vegetables in a competition they'll never win.

That's the thinking of Traci Mann, PhD, a professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota, who has been studying eating habits for more than 20 years. Her advice is to offer vegetables first, when children are hungry and less likely to be distracted by other foods.

Dr. Mann tested her theory in school cafeterias, according to her website, and found that it tripled the amount of vegetables kids ate.

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4 Let Them Play With Their Food

Getting creative with food can also help. For example, Dr. Wansink suggests placing bacon in the shape of a smile along the bottom of a plate, or arranging sweet corn kernels or peas in a heart shape.

Try playing around with the names of foods, too. In the aforementioned Cornell study, Dr. Wansink and his team found that children ate more carrots, broccoli, and green beans when school menus called these vegetables X-Ray Vision Carrots, Power Punch Broccoli, and Silly Dilly Green Beans.

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5 Involve Them Behind the Scenes

Get your kids to help grow and cook vegetables, and you might find they're more willing to taste the results of their hard work at the dinner table.

In a May 2015 study, Cornell University researchers found children to be five times more likely to eat salad when they had grown it themselves.

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6 Don't Give Up!

Sometimes, getting your little ones to eat their greens comes down to sheer persistence. In a September 2013 study, University College London researchers offered children a vegetable they didn't like every day for 12 consecutive days and found that the children ate — and enjoyed — them by the end.

The secret? Offer a reward, the researchers said, which could be a sticker or enthusiastic praise each time the vegetable passes their lips.

After a month of continued exposure, participating children who were given a sticker ate more of the vegetable than those who received only praise. Yet after three months, the ones given a sticker were no different to those who received praise — and both groups were eating nearly twice as many vegetables as the kids in the control group.

From: Prima
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