redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Giving infants and toddlers vegetables on a regular basis before they reach the age of two will help them develop a taste for greens and other types of produce, experts from the University of Leeds report in a new PLOS ONE study.
According to Sarah Knapton of The Telegraph, youngsters are more willing to try different types of vegetables during the first 24 months of their lives, and become more resistant to trying new foods as they grow older. The study also found that children grew fonder of different foods if they were offered them more frequently.
Lead researcher Professor Marion Hetherington of the university’s Institute of Psychological Sciences and her colleagues also found that it was unnecessary to sweeten vegetables to mask the taste and/or attempt to sneak them into an unsuspecting child’s meal.
“For parents who wish to encourage healthy eating in their children, our research offers some valuable guidance,” she said in a statement. “If you want to encourage your children to eat vegetables, make sure you start early and often. Even if your child is fussy or does not like veggies, our study shows that 5-10 exposures will do the trick.”
As part of their experiment, the researchers gave artichoke puree to 332 European children between the ages of four and 38 months. Each youngster was provided with between five and 10 servings of at least 100g of the puree in one of three varieties: basic, sweetened with sugar, or mixed with vegetable oil for additional energy.
Twenty percent of the children cleaned their plates, while 40 percent of them grew to like artichoke, according to BBC News. Overall, the researchers found that the younger children consumed more artichoke than the older study participants, reportedly because children become reluctant to try new foods and are more likely to even reject ones that they previously enjoyed after the age of two.
Hetherington’s team observed that four distinct groups emerged during their investigation. Most of the children (40 percent) were dubbed “learners” and increased their artichoke consumption over time. Of that group, 21 percent ate at least three-fourths of what they were offered each time, and became known as the “plate-cleaners.”
Those youngsters consuming less than 10 grams of the puree through the fifth helping were categorized as “non-eaters” and represented 16 percent of the group, and the remaining 23 percent were classified as “others” because their pattern of intake tended to vary over time.
“The age of child is key when introducing novel foods,” the authors wrote. “Age predicted initial intake of the novel vegetable both pre-intervention and during the initial exposure of the intervention period, with younger children consuming more compared to older children. Plate-clearers were also younger and less fussy whilst older children ate less consistently, were more likely to be non-eaters and were fussier compared to younger children.”
“Successful repeated exposure is dependent upon tasting even small amounts of the target food. Thus, repeated exposure is more likely to be effective at a time when most tastes are easily accepted, namely the weaning period,” they added. “The first year of life presents a window of opportunity before the onset of food neophobia, which then peaks around 2-6 years, thus introducing novel foods such as different vegetables is optimal earlier rather than later.”