Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home

Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home
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Tips like cutting vegetables into shapes, covertly puréeing greens into sauces, and modeling healthy behaviors can improve our children’s diets.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

If you offer kids broccoli or a chocolate bar, which do you think they’d pick? A study showed four out of five pick the chocolate.

Okay; how proud are the parents of the kids that chose the broccoli right now?

But, what if you put an Elmo sticker on the broccoli? When an Elmo sticker was placed on the broccoli, it was half and half. 50% chose the broccoli.

It works in schools, too. A picture of SpongeBob saying, “Got beans?”—and 37% more boys, and 17% more girls, chose green beans. One little sign, and kids were eating significantly more vegetables.

We saw how we should cut up (or, ideally, cut out) cookies to minimize consumption. How should we cut up vegetables to maximize consumption? Which do you think 9- to 12-year-olds ate more of? Whole slices, sticks, or stars? And, do they like them bigger, or smaller?

The results were strikingly clear. Turns out “Shape was very influential; children clearly preferred having their vegetables cut.” Stars were liked the most. What about whole slices versus sticks? No difference. And, size only mattered for the whole chunk, where the ordinary size was preferred to the miniature versions.

If they’re still not biting, you can apply the same trick I use to get our dog to eat stuff she doesn’t like: dip it in peanut butter. “Pairing vegetables with…peanut butter…may successfully increase intake, even in vegetable-resistant children.” Offering a salad dressing dip may help, as well.

Then, there’s always the hidden vegetables strategy.  In another study, “broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini were covertly added to familiar entrées so that the appearance, flavor, and texture of the original recipes were maintained”—like puréeing vegetables into a pasta sauce. And, families weren’t the wiser.

This shouldn’t be the only way, though. “[C]overtly incorporating vegetables into foods can have a beneficial effect on children’s vegetable intake, [but] it should not be the only way that vegetables are served to children. Because the liking of an originally disliked vegetable can be increased through repeated exposure…, it is important to use several strategies to ensure that children experience different forms of vegetables, especially whole vegetables,” because they’re not going to live at home forever.

If worse comes to worst, you can make a video game. The public-private partnership, “The Quest to Lava Mountain,” where you can apparently harvest kale and gain “knowledge about the health benefits of eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods, and the detrimental effects of eating junk…” 

What may be the best way, though, to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? This study looked at all sorts of parenting styles. Should you pressure them? Should you lay off? And, what was the most important factor? “The results indicated that…the most important predictor of children’s fruit consumption” was—wait for it—the “parents’ consumption.” And, pretty much the same with vegetables.

If we want our kids to eat healthy, we have to model healthy behavior. The researchers conclude that “[I]n order to try to increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption, parents should be guided to improve their own” darn diet first.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to More Good Foundation via flickr, and to fir0002 and Evan-Amos via Wikimedia. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

If you offer kids broccoli or a chocolate bar, which do you think they’d pick? A study showed four out of five pick the chocolate.

Okay; how proud are the parents of the kids that chose the broccoli right now?

But, what if you put an Elmo sticker on the broccoli? When an Elmo sticker was placed on the broccoli, it was half and half. 50% chose the broccoli.

It works in schools, too. A picture of SpongeBob saying, “Got beans?”—and 37% more boys, and 17% more girls, chose green beans. One little sign, and kids were eating significantly more vegetables.

We saw how we should cut up (or, ideally, cut out) cookies to minimize consumption. How should we cut up vegetables to maximize consumption? Which do you think 9- to 12-year-olds ate more of? Whole slices, sticks, or stars? And, do they like them bigger, or smaller?

The results were strikingly clear. Turns out “Shape was very influential; children clearly preferred having their vegetables cut.” Stars were liked the most. What about whole slices versus sticks? No difference. And, size only mattered for the whole chunk, where the ordinary size was preferred to the miniature versions.

If they’re still not biting, you can apply the same trick I use to get our dog to eat stuff she doesn’t like: dip it in peanut butter. “Pairing vegetables with…peanut butter…may successfully increase intake, even in vegetable-resistant children.” Offering a salad dressing dip may help, as well.

Then, there’s always the hidden vegetables strategy.  In another study, “broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini were covertly added to familiar entrées so that the appearance, flavor, and texture of the original recipes were maintained”—like puréeing vegetables into a pasta sauce. And, families weren’t the wiser.

This shouldn’t be the only way, though. “[C]overtly incorporating vegetables into foods can have a beneficial effect on children’s vegetable intake, [but] it should not be the only way that vegetables are served to children. Because the liking of an originally disliked vegetable can be increased through repeated exposure…, it is important to use several strategies to ensure that children experience different forms of vegetables, especially whole vegetables,” because they’re not going to live at home forever.

If worse comes to worst, you can make a video game. The public-private partnership, “The Quest to Lava Mountain,” where you can apparently harvest kale and gain “knowledge about the health benefits of eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods, and the detrimental effects of eating junk…” 

What may be the best way, though, to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? This study looked at all sorts of parenting styles. Should you pressure them? Should you lay off? And, what was the most important factor? “The results indicated that…the most important predictor of children’s fruit consumption” was—wait for it—the “parents’ consumption.” And, pretty much the same with vegetables.

If we want our kids to eat healthy, we have to model healthy behavior. The researchers conclude that “[I]n order to try to increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption, parents should be guided to improve their own” darn diet first.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to More Good Foundation via flickr, and to fir0002 and Evan-Amos via Wikimedia. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help.

Doctor's Note

Where were the kale video games when I was growing up!? :)

For a smattering of other videos on children’s health, check out:

  1. Nerves of Mercury
  2. Doctors’ Nutritional Ignorance
  3. Protein, Puberty, & Pollutants
  4. How Fast Can Children Detoxify from PCBs?
  5. Does a Drink of Water Make Children Smarter?
  6. Are Cats or Dogs More Protective For Children’s Health?

This is the second video of a three-part series on practical tips for dietary improvement. Check out part one: Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School (which includes the cookie-cutting experiment). And, I’ll cover grown-ups in part three: Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healthier.

Anyone think their kids would have chosen the broccoli?

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: How to Get Kids to Eat their Vegetables, How to Get our Kids to Eat their Vegetables, and How to Get Parents to Eat their Vegetables.

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