New Study Might Offer Tips On Getting Kids To Eat Fruits And Vegetables

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 
toddler and father eating apples in park
Ashley Corbin-Teich/Getty

I’ve tried a number of strategies to get my children to eat fruits and vegetables. I’ve tried forcing them, which usually ends in tears and gagging. I’ve tried bribing them with treats, which I will admit, works better, but at the same time, I cannot help but feel like it’s counter-productive to bribe my children to eat carrots by tempting them with Skittles.

Each day I make my children pack a fruit or veggie of their choosing in their lunch, and each afternoon it comes back home uneaten. We send it to school again the next day, and it comes back, until it goes bad, and we pick out something new. This is the life-cycle of produce in my house.

I suspect there are a number of you nodding your heads. According to researchers at the University of Eastern Finland “children eat inadequate amounts of vegetables, fruit and berries across Europe and elsewhere, too.” So it’s not just me, or you, or America. Getting kids to eat those greens is difficult worldwide. So take comfort in that. The struggle is universal. But these researchers wanted to find a way to overcome it.

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They studied the consumption of vegetables, fruit and berries, and the family’s home food environment, through a survey taken by parents. The study looked at 114 kindergarten-aged children and their parents in Finland. Raw and cooked vegetables and fruit and berries were analyzed separately.

What did they find? Well, I hope you are sitting down because it might be a tough celery stick to swallow (see what I did there?). According to the researchers, “maternal example was associated with the consumption of raw and cooked vegetables as well as with the consumption of fruit and berries. Paternal example, on the other hand, was the strongest for cooked vegetables.”

So what they are saying is that if mothers eat fruits and vegetables, it will have an impact on their kid’s fruit and vegetable consumption. For some reason, if dad eats fruits, the kids don’t care. But if he eats veggies, those little people get all excited about it, and load their plates with peas.

Okay, it’s not quite that simple.

Researcher and Nutritionist Kaisa Kähkönen from the University of Eastern Finland said their findings show that “teaching children to eat their greens is not something mothers should be doing alone. A positive example set by both parents is important, as is their encouragement of the child.”

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Looking at my own home, my wife and I are both vegetarians. But to be real, Mel is a true vegetarian, eating a regular assortments of fruits and veggies, while I might as well be a carb-etarian. I don’t eat meat, but I don’t eat all that many fruits and vegetables either. For the most part, I live on breakfast cereal, crackers, and rice. Beans are okay. You get the idea. It’s not the healthiest, but I’m comfortable with it.

However, according to this study, I’m going to have to eat more vegetables because my kids obviously find me inspirational in this area. Considering I’m 100% sure they have never found interest in anything I do or have accomplished, eating vegetables might just be my one shot.

The study also showed that dinner is the most important meal at home when it comes to teaching children to eat vegetables. The families participating in the study often ate dinner together, highlighting the role of parental influence on the development of children’s dietary choices and preferences. Thus, if you are going to eat vegetables, do it at dinnertime when your children are watching.

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I’d also recommending making a big deal out of it. Perhaps tell them about how you fight crime in the evenings, but you couldn’t do it without your zucchini power. Wait, that sounds bad, but you know where I’m going with this. As for fruit, snacks were the most important time to set an example.

On the whole, the study found that “many families still eat less vegetables, fruit and berries on average than would be beneficial in view of health promotion. Cooked vegetables and berries were the least eaten food items among the study population.”

I would certainly love it if I could get my children to eat more fruits and vegetables. Not only for their health, but because it would limit my own parental guilt, and stop making me paranoid about my kids’ teachers judging their poor eating habits. I’m going to do it. I’m going to bite the bullet (or in this case, baby carrot), and be a better example. At least when the kids are watching. Who’s with me?

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