How Do We Get Kids to Like Healthy Foods?

No bribing kids to eat their peas. A researcher and mom shares how to get kids to actually enjoy veggies.

No bribing kids to eat their peas. A researcher and mom shares how to get kids to actually enjoy veggies
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Some of the new research on food acceptance shows that it need not be kids versus broccoli to have an effect. Small exposures can make a difference over time. Preparing foods with familiar flavors also helps.

Are we talking, say, mixing a little broccoli into a pasta the child likes?

Right, and also keep in mind that if a kid looks at their dinner plate and sees the broccoli next to a food he really loves, like chicken nuggets, he's going to choose chicken nuggets every time. When introducing new, healthy foods, find times when there's less competition. Try presenting cut-up vegetables with a little low-fat dip as a snack before dinner, when we know kids are hungry and motivated to eat and there's no other competition.

What are other positive experiences parents can attach to healthy foods?

The social aspect of eating is really important. One of the most powerful ways to create positive experiences around food is actually quite easy: Simply enjoy those foods in front of your child. Be enthusiastic about eating them. Other ways to help ensure that kids are making their own choices is to get them involved in food. There's research coming out about various ways that kids can take a more active role, whether it's helping to prepare meals, grow foods or pick vegetables. These activities can make healthy foods more appealing and less scary.

Is there anything we haven't covered that you think parents should know?

Food acceptance is not immediate. Data shows that most parents make decisions on whether kids like or dislike foods after a few tries. (And if you've had kids and had the experience of getting food thrown back, it's not unreasonable that parents do this.) But we know that food acceptance is not a yes or no; it's a process. Kids can require up to five to 10 exposures to see increases in liking, and even more, depending on the food. The take-home message for parents is to see it as a process, and to fight that instinct to push foods.