My nine-year-old Isaac complains there's not enough curry on the menu, whereas five-year-old Gillian wonders why I can't just cook her plain chicken every night. Every day there's at least one child poking at their food and claiming they're full after just one bite. Although there'd be fewer complaints from my kids if I gave in and cooked to order each night, I stand my ground and serve up what's on the meal plan because I believe it's the best way to get my kids to try new foods.
While it's out of sheer stubbornness that I refuse to give in to my kids' dinner demands, a new study from Aston and Loughborough universities in the U.K. suggests I may be on to something. Researchers claim they've found a way to banish picky eating and get kids to consume more vegetables.
"This [picky] is a normal developmental stage for children, but it can often lead to a restricted diet as children become fussier and fussier about what they will not eat," says lead researcher Dr. Claire Fallow. "Eating behaviours have been shown to track throughout childhood and into adulthood—so it is vitally important that children are exposed to fruits and vegetables early in life to inform healthy eating as they grow into adolescence and adulthood."
Acknowledging that parents need evidence-based scientific advice to get their kids to try new foods, researchers worked with 115 children between the ages of two and four over a 14 day period in their homes using a variety of food intervention techniques, including the "three 's"—role modelling, repetition and rewards. A role modelling example was parents eating the new vegetable first, repetition was offering the vegetable every day over the study period and rewards consisted of praising kids verbally for trying the new vegetable (but not bribing them with dessert, which is a common tactic). The study claims the "three Rs" increased the children's consumption of veggies they'd previously disliked.
The amount of vegetables kids ate were measured at the beginning and end of the study, with kids who were introduced to all three food interventions eating the most vegetables. We're not talking one or two extra peas, but a whopping four grams of vegetables were consumed, compared to 0.6 grams before the study started. For any parent who has struggled to get a kid to take just one bite of something new, four grams is a dramatic increase.
While the study focused on vegetable consumption, I think I'll apply the same techniques to any new food I want my kids to try. For example, it's not taste that is an issue for my kids, but texture. Neither Isaac or Gillian like the texture of cooked vegetables or soft meats, but maybe by putting poached chicken and mashed potatoes on the menu, I might be able to mix up my meal plans (beyond curry and plain roast chicken).
Got a picky eater at home? Check out this video: