It is not always easy to include vegetables, fruits and herbs in a child’s routine. But researchers at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands seem to have found a better way to do this.
According to the authors of the survey published this Thursday (5), during the European Congress on Obesity held in Maastricht, children are more willing to eat vegetables if they get some kind of reward for trying them – and that could happen. For example, a dessert would not.
“It’s important to start eating vegetables at an early age,” said Brit Van Belcom, author of the paper from the university’s Youth, Food and Health program. “From previous research we know that young children usually have to try eight to ten times before choosing a new vegetable.”
The author analyzed 598 children aged 1 to 4 from a school center in Limburg, Netherlands, who took part. Box of vegetables. “In this program, children come into contact with vegetables in the day care center,” Van Belkom explained in a press interview.
The program offers a scientifically proven approach to encouraging the use of these foods, providing practical tools for educators and educators to combine vegetables as a daily snack for children – both at home and at school.
As a result, researchers randomly divided children into three groups:
- Vegetable exposure with rewards;
- Vegetable exposure, but no reward;
- Control group (no exposure / no reward).
The children in the first two groups were given the opportunity to eat a variety of vegetables every day at school for three months.
Knowledge and taste of vegetables were measured before exposure to food and during research interventions.
Another important point, which the author has made a point to highlight, is that the prize cannot be another food like sweets. For the study, they chose fun gifts like toy stickers, cards or crowns (king or queen).
Vegetables chosen to test children’s knowledge are: tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, onions, broccoli, peas, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, chicory, pumpkin and asparagus.
Scientists tested their knowledge by showing participants 14 vegetables and then asked them how many names they could give – the highest score was 14.
In the pre-test in the control group, the children were able to identify about 8 vegetables and after three months the number reached about 10.
Among the participants in the “Vegetable Exposure, But No Reward” group and the “Exposure / Reward” group, in the pre-test, children were able to name about 9 vegetables and, after evaluation, 11.
The cost of food was measured by counting the children’s six small pieces of vegetables – tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, radishes and cauliflower – and calculating how much they wanted to taste. At this stage, the highest score was 12.
In the pre-test, they were willing to try about 5 to 6 vegetables in all groups. In the awards group, this number increased to 7. In the control and non-reward groups, the index was the same.
“Only when they come in contact with vegetables and are rewarded for doing so can you see a significant increase in trying food after 3 months,” said the study’s authors.
“Regularly giving vegetables to children in day care significantly increases their ability to recognize different foods. However, rewarding children for tasting vegetables also seems to increase their desire to eat different vegetables,” he said.
The importance of making habits from childhood
In conversation with Stay wellResearcher Britt Van Belkom explains that such rewards can have a positive (rather than a negative) effect when children are repeatedly exposed.
“If you repeat this exposure, we hope that these children will be able to continue eating vegetables over time, and without any rewards,” he said. Thus, their “habit” prevents them from always getting something in return.
“We already observe this type of system when they go to the bathroom as children. After a while, they don’t need a reward for doing it,” he said. This is the same argument as creating a healthy habit. Over time, that is likely to change.
* Reporter traveled at the invitation of Novo Nordisk.