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Parents struggling to get kids to eat their greens should offer them this

A researcher said: "Rewarding toddlers for tasting vegetables appears to also increase their willingness to try different vegetables."

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A top view of fresh raw carrots on a wooden table
(Oakland Images via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Parents struggling to get fussy kids to eat their greens should offer them a carrot, according to a new study.

Dutch researchers found that providing some form of reward was the best way to get finicky youngsters to try new vegetables.

Toddlers eat more vegetables if they are rewarded for trying them, according to their findings.

Healthy eating habits can lower the risk of obesity, heart disease and cancer.

But, as many parents know only too well, young children often don’t like eating their greens.

Youth, food and health researcher Britt van Belkom, a PhD student at Maastricht University, said. “It’s important to start eating vegetables from a young age.

“We know from previous research that young children typically have to try a new vegetable eight to 10 times before they like it.

“And so we looked at whether repeatedly asking children to try some vegetables would make them more willing to eat their greens. We were also interested in whether providing a fun reward would make a difference.”

A total of 598 children, aged one to four-years-old at a day care centers in Limburg, Holland, took part in “The Vegetable Box” program.

Miss van Belkom and colleagues randomly assigned them to one of three groups: exposure/reward, exposure/no reward or control where there was no exposure or reward,

Those in the first two groups were given the chance to try a range of vegetables every day they attended their day care centre for three months.

Those in the “reward” group were given fun, non-food rewards, such as a sticker or toy crown, when they tried some vegetables.

Knowledge of vegetables and willingness to taste them was measured at the start and end of the study.

Knowledge was measured by showing them 14 different vegetables and asking them how many they could name.

The 14 were tomato, lettuce, cucumber, carrot, bell pepper, onion, broccoli, peas, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, chicory, pumpkin, and asparagus.

Consumption was measured by giving them the chance to taste bite-size pieces of six vegetables - tomato, cucumber, carrot, bell pepper, radish and cauliflower - and counting how many they were willing to taste.

At the pre-test in the control group children could identify around eight vegetables and post-test that number increased to around 10.

For the exposure/no reward and the exposure/reward groups, at the pre-test children could identify around nine vegetables and after around 11.

For willingness to try vegetables, the maximum score was 12. At the pre-test they were willing to try around five or six vegetables in all the groups.

This decreased in the control group, was unchanged in the exposure/no reward group and increased towards seven in the exposure/reward group.

Miss van Belkom added: “Regularly offering vegetables to toddlers at day care centers significantly increases their ability to recognize various vegetables.

“But rewarding toddlers for tasting vegetables appears to also increase their willingness to try different vegetables.

“The type of reward is, however, very important – it should be fun but not food.”

The findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Maastricht, Holland.

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