How to Get Any Child to Eat Vegetables

The secret may be in the crunchiness, according to new food research from the Netherlands.

April 5, 2010

Be patient but persistent and your child will give peas a chance.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—It’s a question parents have been fretting over since time immemorial: How do I get my kids to eat those doggone vegetables? And a positive kids-vegetables experience is more important than ever, given the exploding childhood obesity epidemic. Fortunately, Dutch researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands may have some answers.


THE DETAILS: In a study done last year, the researchers served a group of kids (aged 4 to 12) two vegetables: carrots and string beans. The vegetables were served either mashed, steamed, boiled, stir-fried, grilled, or deep-fried. Turns out the kids liked the boiling and steaming methods the best, because these methods were best at preserving the vegetables’ original crunchiness, color, taste, and texture.

WHAT IT MEANS: The bottom line was that kids responded best when the vegetables weren’t drastically altered during the cooking process. For example, stir-frying resulted in relatively crunchy vegetables, which was a positive, but the kids were turned off by the brown color, says lead researcher Gertrude Zeinstra, PhD. Likewise, although boiling worked best (along with steaming), doing so for too long would’ve made the vegetables mushy, which the children would not have liked. “The most important factors for parents to keep in mind,” says Zeinstra, “are to serve the vegetables as crunchy as possible, with no brown coloring.”

Based on her research, Zeinstra offers four more vegetable-serving tips for parents:

Eat them also: “It’s very important to set an example for your child and eat the vegetables when your child is eating,” says Zeinstra.

Show gentle persistence: “Your kid may have to taste a vegetable more than 10 times before he or she starts to enjoy it,” she says. So try to be patient.

Be creative: Though boiling and steaming were the preferred methods in this study, Zeinstra says other methods may work better for your child. “It can also help if your child occasionally helps you prepare the vegetables in the kitchen,” she says. Remember, cooking methods that don't change the look or texture of the vegetables too much are likely to work best.

Stay positive: Do your best to keep a pleasant atmosphere during the meal, specifically when your child is eating vegetables. “If you’re negative or overly persistent, your child will probably pick up on that,” says Zeinstra.

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