Kids eat more vegetables when parents implement simple strategy, researchers find

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A new study conducted by researchers at Penn State has found that children ages 3–5 will eat more of their vegetables if they’re served a double portion, and when the other foods on their plate remain constant. (Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – If you struggle to get your children to eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables, you’ll be interested to know that science has finally figured out a solution: Just deceive them.

A new study conducted by researchers at Penn State has found that children ages 3–5 will eat more of their vegetables if they’re served a double portion while the serving size for other foods on their plate remains constant. Specifically, the study’s authors found that kids would eat 68% more of their vegetables (the children were provided with broccoli and corn) than when they were presented with their single, usual servings.

The kids’ intake of their other meal components (fish sticks, rice, ketchup, applesauce and milk) remained the same despite the increased serving of vegetables.

“The increase we observed is equal to about one third of a serving or 12% of the daily recommended intake for young children,” said Hanim Diktas, graduate student in nutritional sciences, in a news release published at EurekAlert.

Researchers also took “flavor enhancements” into account, but found no significant change in the amount of vegetables eaten, or their perceived taste, when adding light butter and salt. They did note, however, that seasonings may be helpful when introducing less familiar vegetables to children for the first time.

“We were surprised that the butter and salt weren’t needed to improve intake, but the vegetables we served were corn and broccoli, which may have been already familiar to and well-liked by the kids,” said Diktas in the news release. “So for less familiar vegetables, it’s possible some extra flavoring might help to increase intake.”

Based on the findings of the study, which was published in the journal Appetite, researchers further noted that parents need to be aware of “how palpable the vegetables are compared to the other foods on the plate.” For instance, if a child’s other favorite foods are sitting right next to a vegetable they show no preference for, it’s likely the results won’t hold.

“If you offer vegetables alongside, say, chicken nuggets, you might be disappointed,” said Barbara Rolls, the director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State.

The study’s authors added that researchers are “working on” less wasteful ideas, including methods for replacing other meal components with vegetables, rather than providing double servings at each sitting.

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