Every parent would like their preschoolers to eat more fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables. For many, if not most, it’s a constant battle that many don’t win. Is there a “secret weapon” for getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables?
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a secret to getting your 3 to 5 year old to eat more fruits and vegetables? If there was just that simple, overlooked thing you could do to bring them around to the idea!
But alas, the battle rages on. You entice them, cajole them, even appeal to their underdeveloped logic or even their egos (much more developed, but it still won’t work.)
You need that secret weapon. Well, science may have found it. If you’re an adult who’s not a big fan of fruits and/or veggies, though, you may not love this one.
It turns out that when both mom and dad set a positive example around eating vegetables, fruits and berries for their 3 to 5-year olds, they’ve got a far better shot of making it happen! We know this because a bunch of science types at the University of Eastern Finland have just published the results of a study that confirm that exact truth.
Their study looked at the connection between the food environment in the home, along with parental influence as it relates to the consumption of veggies and fruits among preschool and kindergarten-aged kids. They published their findings in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
In just about every corner of the world, kids just don’t eat enough vegetables, berries and fruit. With the plethora of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients in these foods, we know we need to get more of them into children.
Add to this the reality that eating habits established in childhood strongly translate to the teen years and into adulthood and the problem gets more critical. Early childhood is the key time to get kids to adopt the habit of eating the good stuff – vegetables, fruits, berries and other healthy foods.
The research team looked at family home food environments and the consumption of fruits, veggies and berries via a survey filled out by parents. The study group comprised 114 kindergarten-aged children, along with 100 parents, all in Finland. The survey broke raw vegetables from cooked, as well as fruits and berries as separate categories.
It seems that, at least to some degree, whether kids eat vegetables is influenced by different factors than whether they eat fruits and berries.
When mom eats raw and cooked vegetables, as well as fruits and berries, the kids are more likely to do so as well. Dad’s biggest influence seemed to be on the consumption of cooked vegetables.
“This shows that teaching children to eat their greens is not something mothers should be doing alone. A positive example set by both parents is important, as is their encouragement of the child,” Researcher and Nutritionist Kaisa Kähkönen from the University of Eastern Finland says.
One clear result of the data analysis was a strong correlation between eating dinner at home and the likelihood of children to eat fruits, vegetables and berries. The families taking part in the study ate dinners at home and together. This highlights the role of parent’s influence on the nutrition habits and preferences developed by their children.
Dinner allows vegetables, in particular, to be presented to children in a variety of forms, both raw and cooked. They can be side dishes, salads or even entrees.
“Variation can be created by serving raw vegetables, such as the ever-popular cucumber and tomato, accompanied by cooked ones. In fact, many root vegetables, cabbages and squashes are best served cooked,” Kähkönen says.
When it comes to eating fruit, evening snacks were the most important meal.
The study did reveal that many families are still not eating as much in the way of fruits, vegetables and berries as is recommended. These foods are considered crucial for good health by an overwhelming majority of dietary and public health authorities, as well as by just about anyone with a brain.
Getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables may require a united front on the part of parents. If both parents are creating positive examples regarding eating fruits and veggies – and healthy foods in general – the likelihood of children choosing better foods goes up. They are then more likely to carry those good choices into later childhood and even adulthood.
Get everyone in your kids life involved. Why not extend the role modeling beyond just parents? This might be necessary for single parents and non-traditional families. Of course, the side benefit here is that all the adults are getting more fruits and vegetables in their diets while they’re doing all that role modeling. Now THAT seems like something we can all get behind!
Keep the faith and keep after it!
Journal Reference – K. Kähkönen, M. Hujo, M. Sandell, A. Rönkä, A. Lyytikäinen, O. Nuutinen. Fruit and vegetable consumption among 3–5-year-old Finnish children and their parents: Is there an association? Food Quality and Preference, 2020; 82: 103886 DOI: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2020.103886