Stealth Veggies: Good Or Bad For Our Children?

Scientists are concerned that sneaking fruits and veggies into childrens´ food doesn´t do as much good as parents would like.
Getting children to eat the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables is no easy chore for any parent. However, statistics show that our kids are not getting enough vegetables in their daily diets.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System surveyed adolescents and found that only 21 percent of children eat the recommended five or more fruits and vegetables a day.
Concerned parents have tried to rectify this problem by sneaking veggies into everyday meals. Food makers have even noticed this trend and have made versions of popular foods fortified with broccoli, tomatoes and yams. Kraft´s Veggie Pasta Macaroni and Cheese, for example, replaces some of the flour in its pasta with cauliflower.
Some doctors and dietitians worry that this kind of trickery does not benefit children in the long run.
A new study in the March/April 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that letting kids know that their food has been injected with a serving of vegetables does not alter taste preference. Rather, kids may choose the food itself rather than the vegetables that have been injected in the food.
In a study designed to test this theory, investigators from Columbia University asked 68 elementary and middle school students to choose between foods that were labeled with the vegetable that was hiding within and foods that bore a simpler label. What the children didn´t know, however, was that both foods they tried contained the vegetable. The results from this study showed that while no one food was preferred over the other, the students were more interested in the regularly labeled food as opposed to the food labeled with the vegetable.
However, the investigators said that the results also back up previous test results showing kids´ unwillingness to try new foods. “These findings are consistent with previous literature on neophobia that suggests that children are less apt to like food with which they are unfamiliar,” said Ms. Lizzy Pope, MS, RD, the principal investigator of the study. “Since the majority of students had had broccoli and zucchini within the past year (as compared to chickpeas), it appears that there must be some familiarity with a vegetable for the labeling of the vegetable content not to influence taste preference. Considering this then, it is not surprising that the unlabeled version of the chickpea chocolate chip cookies was preferred over the labeled version.”
The study also proves that labels matter just as much, if not more, to kids. “These prior studies suggest the potential power that food labels can have on individuals,” said Dr. Randi Wolf, PhD, MPH, co-investigator. “Although anecdotal reports suggest that children may not eat food products that they know contain vegetables, little is actually known about how children’s taste preferences may be affected when the vegetable content of a snack food item is apparent on the item’s label.”
The take away from these studies is it is just as important to introduce children to new foods as it is to make sure that they actually eat the foods.

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