Seemingly universal angst among parents is how to get kids to eat more vegetables and fruit to support healthy growth and development. In a controlled feeding study, researchers from Pennsylvania State University tested two strategies for nudging kids towards eating more fruits and vegetables.
The first 5-day trial involved adding 50% more to vegetable and fruit side dishes at kids’ meals throughout the day. The second was substituting 50% more vegetables and fruits for an equivalent weight of other foods. For example, if the investigators added 50 grams of veggies to the lunch meal, they subtracted 50 g of pasta (so not just simply adding additional vegetables and fruits to an already existing amount of other food).
The findings, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that among 53 children ages 3–5 adding more produce to side dishes resulted in the children eating 24% more veggies and 33% more fruit compared with the control menus. Substituting fruits and veggies for some of the other foods resulted in kids consuming 41% more veggies and 38% more fruit. Worth considering is that daily calorie intake increased by 5% with the addition method but decreased by 6% with the substitution method.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 60% of children don’t eat enough fruit and 93% don’t eat enough vegetables, suggesting a need for strategies like these that parents and schools can use to encourage kids to eat more produce.