To increase children’s acceptance of vegetables, they need to eat them frequently before they turn two. Not only that, but vegetables shouldn’t be sweetened to make them tastier or buried in pasta where no one knows they hide. Eating vegetables means eating a serving of something, right there on a plate. To get children to do that, begin early.
Researchers fed artichoke puree to 332 children ages 6 months to 38 months (three years old). They chose artichoke as the test veggie because parents said they had rarely or never served that to their children. Each child was offered between five and 10 servings, over several days, naturally, of 100 grams of artichoke puree. That’s a little less than half a cup. That’s quite a bit of vegetable.
Some of the puree was served as-is. Sometimes it was served sweetened with sugar. Sometimes it was served enriched with a little vegetable oil. Neither of the additives had any effect. The plain puree was accepted as well as the sweetened puree was.
And the plain puree was accepted, especially by younger tots. Over 20% of children ate more than a third of a cup of artichoke puree by the end of the study. These children were almost all under 24 months of age. Another 16% of children ate hardly any puree and these children were all the preschool-age kids. A quarter of the children sometimes ate quite a bit and sometimes ate little and the largest single group – 40% – steadily increased their intake of artichoke. The more opportunities children had to eat the vegetable the more they ate at each sitting.
Much of the take-away from this study runs counter to the way parents think about feeding toddlers. We tend to assume children prefer sweets and reject vegetables, so we doctor food to make it more acceptable. We lose hope early and assume after just one or two tries with a vegetable that a child “just doesn’t like it” and give up serving it. Both of these assumptions appears to be wrong. Children accept vegetables just fine, just the way they are, and they accept them more readily the more often they have a chance to eat them.
In addition, we parents tend to wait until a child is older before introducing vegetables. While we might serve mashed peas or sweet potato – both sweet foods, by the way – we put off broccoli, cauliflower, and, yes, artichokes until children are preschool age. This is a mistake. Children typically become more conservative about food selection as they get older. The window of vegetable opportunity opens early in life.
Now, when summer vegetables are plentiful and delicious, is an ideal time to not only introduce new foods to small children but to continue to serve them day after day. Normalize vegetables, rather than imagining veggies take a special effort to make them palatable. Keep in mind, of course, that some vegetables, like corn, are difficult to mash up for tiny palates. But vegetables that can be pureed or cooked soft enough to make good finger food deserve star billing on your lunch and dinner menus.
Start your baby on veggies now.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.