A Clever Way to Help Toddlers Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

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If your clients are tired of cleaning up the produce that got tossed during their toddler's lunch, the following article may have some insight for them...

You’ve likely heard that it may take multiple exposures to different foods for a child to accept them, but parents often throw in the towel too early. Parents should expose their children to a certain food over and over before deciding for sure that they dislike it. Research indicates that using picture books to familiarize children with fruits and vegetables can raise their interest in trying certain foods.

A recent study examined whether looking at photo books prior to giving kids foods to taste improved the outcomes of a home-delivered taste exposure program. Parents of 127 toddlers (aged 21-24 months) chose two “target” foods (1 vegetable, 1 fruit) that they were interested in their children eating. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of three groups. There were two experimental groups of parents and children that reviewed books about either the target fruit or vegetable every day for two weeks and a control group that did not get a book. Parents in each of the three groups were requested to offer their children both target foods daily during a 2-week taste exposure phase.

Parental rankings of their children’s preference for and intake of the foods were collected at baseline, immediately following taste-exposure (post-intervention), and 3 months after (follow up). In each of the three groups, liking of both targeted foods increased after taste exposure and stayed above baseline at follow up (all ps< .001).
Compared to the control group who only had taste exposure, looking at vegetable books increased children’s liking of their target vegetables after the trial (p < .001) and at follow up (p < .05) and increased intake of the vegetable afterwards (p < .01). Seeing vegetable books was also linked to smaller increases in neophobia and food pickiness over the study period. This data suggests that picture books may have long-term, positive impacts on children’s perceptions about new foods.

Fortunately for parents, there are lots of toddler books about fruits and vegetables that may encourage kids to try more new-to-them foods. These include Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert, Oliver’s Vegetables by Vivian French and Allison Bartlett, Heroes of the Vegetable Patch by Charlotte Ramel and Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravette.

Parents can also encourage fruit and vegetable intake through modeling behaviors.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

References:

  1. Jennifer S. Savage, Jennifer Orlet Fisher, and Leann L. Birch. Parental influence on eating behavior. J Law Med Ethics. 2007; 35(1): 22–34.
  2. Laura H.Owena Orla B.KennedybClaireHillaCarmelHouston-Pricea. Parents’ experiences of introducing toddlers to fruits and vegetables through repeated exposure, with and without prior visual familiarization to foods: Evidence from daily diaries. Food Quality and Preference ( IF 3.652 ) Pub Date : 2018-08-06.
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