Timing key to getting children to get new vegetables

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Exposing Infants to new vegetables early in life encourages them to eat more of it, new research from the University of Leeds suggests.

And perseverance may be key to cracking fussy eaters - with researchers finding that even those with selective tastes were able to eat a bit more of a new vegetable each time they are offered it.

The research, led by Professor Marion Hetherington in the Institute of Psychological Sciences, also dispelled the myth that vegetable tastes need to be masked or given by stealth in order for children to eat them.

Professor Hetherington said: “For parents who wish to encourage healthy eating in their children, our research offers some valuable guidance.

“If you want to encourage your children to eat vegetables, make sure you start early and often. Even if your child is fussy or does not like veggies, our study shows that five to 10 exposures will do the trick.”

In the study babies and toddlers from the UK, France and Denmark were given small, frequent meals of artichoke puree, with the majority, 40 per cent, increasing the amount they ate over time. Artichoke was chosen because parents said it was one of the least-offered vegetables.

Younger children ate more than older children, and 21 per cent fell into the category of “plate clearers” who gobbled up more than 75 per cent of each helping.

Trying to introduce artichoke to older children was much less successful, confirming that children become wary and more fussy about food by the age of two or three.

During the experiment, which was published in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, each child was given between five and 10 servings of at least 100g of the artichoke puree in one of three versions: basic; sweetened, with added sugar; or added energy, where vegetable oil was mixed into the puree.

There was also little difference in the amounts eaten over time between those who were fed basic puree and those who ate the sweetened puree, which suggests that making vegetables sweeter does not make a significant difference to the amount children eat.