It’s a story familiar to parents of young children. A child may eat everything on their plate, but refuse to touch their vegetables. Parents trying to convince kids to eat healthy foods may try a range of tactics that run the gamut from issuing challenges (greenbean races, anyone?) to outright bribery (eat your broccoli florets, earn a cookie).
It turns out, however, describing the food and its taste or just presenting the food, rather than pitching the health benefits (or begging), can result in children feeling more encouraged to eat these foods, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
“Eat your carrots because it helps with your eyesight”
Researchers conducted five studies with children ranging from 3 to 5 years old and found making food instrumental in achieving a goal (such as increasing eyesight) decreased preschoolers’ consumption.
The reason? The children perceived the food would taste bad because it was connected to achieving a goal.
“It’s important to get kids to eat vegetables and fruits to receive a balanced diet,” said John Moore, DO, FAAFP, Aetna’s medical director for the U.S. Northeast Region. “You’re giving them the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients to develop and grow up properly and healthily.”
It’s important for kids to eat a balanced diet
A well-balanced diet not only helps children develop and learn, but also can aid in preventing obesity and other weight-related diseases, such as diabetes. Giving children the opportunity to eat healthy food options allows them to experience immediate and long-lasting benefits, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends making half of what is on your child’s plate fruits and vegetables and serving whole-grain breads and cereals because they’re higher in fiber. And in addition to limiting the fast food and junk food, offer children water or milk instead of sugary fruit drinks and sodas.
What to do if your child doesn’t eat healthy food
There are a lot of methods parents will try to get their children to eat certain healthy food options. It’s not rare, Moore says, for those methods to not work.
A healthy diet can lead to immediate and long-lasting benefits for children
“As hard as you try to get your younger children to eat well, some of them just won’t do it,” Moore said. “The truth is, if children will not eat well, it’s probably best to supplement them with a chewable or liquid multivitamin.”
This way, the child still largely receives a balanced diet, despite not eating everything on their plate.
If a child is taking a multivitamin to supplement their diet, Moore emphasized it’s still important to continue encouraging children to eat new foods.
“Continue to try and introduce foods to children on a repeated basis, but don’t make it an unpleasant experience. Most children do make progress with expanding their dietary choices over time. Parents often simply need to be patient.”