How to make children like vegetables ?


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A higher consumption of vegetables can be more readily
achieved by research into the diversity and variety of tastes, out of which emerges the importance of encouraging this consumption in children who are in the full throes of developing their food preferences.

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How to make children like vegetables ?

  1. 1. «A higher consumption of vegetables can be more readily achieved by research into the diversity and variety of tastes, out of which emerges the importance of encouraging this consumption in children who are in the full throes of developing their food preferences.» How can we make children like vegetables ? Within the unprecedented context of an abundant range of available foods, the question of the emergence of taste in children and the establishment of dietary patterns is now more than ever a topic of discussion. While it is generally accepted that a varied diet has a positive influence on health, the optimum conditions for the adoption of such a diet are still to be established. Much more so than with adults, young children tend to be highly selective and also disinclined to consume a certain number of foods, especially vegetables. But this natural tendency need not be the end of the world. From the development of taste to the analysis of dietary behaviour and including a number of useful tips, the Louis Bonduelle Foundation will in the following pages provide you with the different keys to getting children to open wide when faced with a plate of vegetables ! F irst of all, let us ask the question : Why don’t children like vegetables  ? Emotional aspects are particularly important in the perception and learning of tastes. As a result, a single negative experience (unpleasant texture, unexpected bitterness, etc.) can be enough to cause rejection. The resultant negative attitude can be offset by other more attractive aspects (the context when tasted, presentation, flavour, texture, etc.). However, in general terms, vegetables are at somewhat of a disadvantage compared to other foods. The first reason is that they have a relatively low caloric content and therefore fewer perceptible physiological effects such as satiety, while children have a high calorie intake requirement for correct physical development. Secondly, most vegetables are low in sugar and many can be bitter-tasting or have sulphurous notes. This is the case for example with spinach, fennel, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Some people are more sensitive than others to these compounds and will therefore perceive these vegetables as giving off varying degrees of bitterness. A higher consumption of vegetables can be more readily achieved by research into the diversity and variety of tastes, out of which emerges the importance of encouraging this consumption in children who are in the full throes of developing their food preferences. Rather than descending into a downward fatalistic spiral, it is important to look at the positive aspects of things : it is entirely possible that the subtlety and complexity of the taste of vegetables do not constitute insurmountable problems, but real advantages, such as a counter to the phenomenon of fatigue.  z
  2. 2. Sustainable evolution of eating habits In theory In ­ utero and in lacto, children should be trained to get used to the taste of vegetables Preferences are the result of dietary experience which begins in utero, and are constantly developed throughout one’s lifetime. Early chemical-sensory experiences at the end of the foetal stage and during breast-feeding (exposure to the flavour of vegetables) encourage the consumption of vegetables when the child is introduced to solid foods. At this stage, taste is acquired… by tasting  ! Stu- dies have shown that six-month old babies who have been breast-fed enjoy vegetables more than those fed with formula milk. [1-2]. Explanation  : Food's flavour consumed by the mother are found in the amniotic fluid [3], and then in breast milk [4]. The taste for, and acceptance of, vegetables is therefore built up from the first years of life and transformed into dietary habit. z High taste and olfactory sensitivity may explain certain food aversions From the first hours of life, or even while still in the uterus (around the 8th month of pregnancy), sweetness is accepted while acidity and bitterness are universally rejected. The bitter taste of certain fruits and vegetables may therefore explain their rejection by the majority of children. Unpleasant sulphurous compounds in the mouth such as PROP (6-n-propylthiouracyl) or PTC (phenylthiocarbamide), contribute to bitterness. Some people are extremely sensitive to them (subjects known as «tasters»), while others only notice them in very high concentrations (subjects known as «non-tasters», approximately 30  % of the population in Europe and America). Accordingly, it has been demonstrated that sensitivity to PROP goes hand-in-hand with lower acceptance of bitter products [5]. However, although genetically sensitive to bitterness, many people are able to overcome any «genetic aversion» they may have through their propensity to be adventurous when it comes to tasting food. Researchers from the OPALINE study (observation of food preferences in children and infants) have also tried to establish if children who present a specific typology relating to food (fussy, numerous rejections, neophobic, selective, etc.) could be shown to have elevated olfactory reactivity. In other words, with a child who for example does not like cabbage, is he or she not simply more sensitive to one of the olfactory compounds which forms part of the taste  ? In reality, all flavours do not necessarily induce universal pleasure responses. Each child possesses a sensitivity profile which is genetically determined and unique. Analysis is being carried out, but preliminary results lead us to believe that the hypothesis will be confirmed : the children who are most fussy about their food are likely to be those with the most acute olfactory reactivity. During and after introducing solid foods, repeated exposure To understand children’s natural tendency to prefer chips to spinach, it must be accepted that there is a sensory profile which is particular to children’s tastes. In her book «La naissance du goût» («The birth of taste») [6], Natalie Rigal, a research psychologist specialising in taste at the University of Paris X Nanterre, notes that research data suggests that child-specific taste exists, beyond the distinctions of gender or social and geographical origin. Preferences can be grouped into sweet foods, simple salted foods, certain meats and dairy products, while rejections include offal, certain strong-tasting foods and most vegetables. As they grow, children learn to look beyond sensory dislikes : vegetables and strong-tasting foods become increasingly acceptable. Why  ? As time progresses, children learn to know and like these foods through the process of familiarisation. Consequently and without actually forcing the child, offering a child a disliked vegetable on a daily basis has a favourable impact in terms of taste and consumption, and will turn rejection into acceptance. p. 2 - How can we make children like vegetables ?
  3. 3. © NiDerLander - Start before the age of 3 Up to the age of around 18 months, children are happy to taste any food they are offered. This capacity to accept new foods can be encouraged by exposure to a wider variety of food. However, at around two years old, one half of children become more choosy, and neophobic behaviour (an unwillingness to try unfamiliar products) and selectivity become apparent. This neophobic/selective phase has consequences for dietary consumption : so-called fussy children have a less varied diet. Between the ages of two and nine, neophobic children eat less fruit and in particular fewer vegetables, both in terms of variety and quantity. In general, the diet becomes more varied after the period of neophobia. However, those children who have the least varied diet in early childhood also have a less varied diet in later life right up to the beginning of adulthood. Consequently, a new food is more likely to be accepted if it is introduced before the neophobic/ selective period than if it is introduced during this period. Access to a variety of foods should therefore be encouraged as early as possible, notwithstanding any suspected food allergies. When children reach the age of six months, their diet moves from being exclusively milk-based to the progressive introduction of solid food. Sophie Nicklaus, a research scientist at INRA within the mixed FLAVIC (consumer flavour, vision and behaviour) research unit, explains that at this age, the presentation of new foods is time well spent : «It has been shown that the more a child has tasted different foods at this age, the more he or she will accept new foods in the future. Repetition and variety play an important role in establishing taste from the onset of the introduction of solid foods and encourage the consumption of new foods, especially vegetables.» Early childhood also represents an important period in the formation of dietary preferences. Sophie Nicklaus has studied children’s dietary choices at nursery age (2-3-year-old), and then monitored them during subsequent years (up to the age of 22 for the oldest amongst them). «On the one hand, we have been able to show that at 2-3-year-old vegetables were the food group least How can we make children like vegetables ? - p. 3 often chosen by the children who had the least varied choice on offer, and on the other hand, the children who chose most vegetables at the age of 2-3 were also those who ate a wider variety of vegetables once they had grown up», she explains. Consequently, even when vegetables are consumed in smaller quantities than other foods in early childhood, their level of consumption is an accurate predictor of future consumption. In other words, the liking for vegetables and the variety of vegetables consumed are in part preset from the age of 3. Regarding the number of repetitions, 8 to 10 separate exposures are necessary to make a child of 2-3-yearold accept a food [7]. This figure also seems to apply to younger children [8]. Additionally, other conditions support the positive effects of repeated exposure. For example, products which are not filling as is the case with most vegetables are better received when eaten alongside starchy food. However, beyond the period of early childhood when it is ideal for vegetables to be discovered and during which time parents are especially attentive to the food they give their child, a reduction in the consumption of vegetables can be observed if vigilance is not maintained. z An end to primitive conditioning Care should be taken when attempting to influence dietary choices by using traditional behaviour strategies… they can very easily become counter-productive. Sentences such as «If you eat up your spinach you can have an ice cream for dessert» constitute primitive conditioning which reduces the palatability of spinach even further while increasing that of ice cream. The exact opposite of what is intended. «If you don’t eat your spinach you won’t be going to the park this afternoon»… is blackmail which also reduces the palatability of spinach. All that needs to be done is to put the food in front of them without coercion of any kind. Patience remains the best virtue !
  4. 4. Sustainable evolution of eating habits Parents and teachers should show appropriate behaviour Beyond diet in its strictest sense, the influence of the overall family situation appears to be of critical importance to children. Establishing the habit of going to school with an apple in their bag, seeing their parents regularly eat fruit and vegetables, knowing the healthy eating recommendations : all are factors which are closely correlated with consumption patterns observed in 11-year-old children [9-10]. Neither too permissive nor too authoritarian More so than adults, children are able to adjust their consumption from one meal to the next (for example, if they have had a big lunch they will only have a small tea). Apart from in exceptional circumstances, it is therefore vital in order not to upset this natural adaptation of their needs, to avoid systematically encouraging them to clear their plate. Children who have already eaten half of their vegetables should have the freedom to say «I’ve finished, I’m not hungry any more». It’s a question of maintaining their feelings of hunger and satiety. At the same time, a child’s refusal to finish their broccoli while asking for a dessert should not be viewed as trickery, but more as an expression of enjoyment. Care should simply be taken to ensure that the dessert does not systematically replace something the child likes less. Parental consumption of fruit and vegetables should increase Despite the importance of the parental model on children, it must be noted that in terms of diet, most parents are a long way off setting a good example on a routine basis. In Europe, a high percentage of mothers consume less than one portion of fruit or vegetables per day and only 27 % follow WHO recommendations of over 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day [11]. Researchers involved in the OPALINE study wondered if a link exists between the level of children’s dietary selectivity and educational practices within the family. Few studies up to then had attempted to find out if a permissive education within the family (respect for the child’s appetite and preferences to the point of preparing them their own meal), intermediate education (encouragement to eat amounts commensurate with the child’s appetite) or authoritative education (parents who force their child to finish their plate irrespective of how hungry or tired they may be) could be shown to have such an influence. The results of the study show that 25  % of the child’s level of selectivity can be explained by practices within the family. Of the five predictive factors relating to higher child selectivity, three are due to the willingness of the mother to accede to her child’s wishes, namely permissive educational style, dietary behaviour guided by preferences and dietary strategy based on the child’s preferences. Restrict time spent watching TV Data relating to the external conditioning of children’s diet through TV is damning : • overweight children (and obese children even more so) are better than thin children at identifying food adverts on the TV [12] ; • ll children increase food intake in front of the TV, a the obese more than others [13-14] ; • reducing time spent in front of the TV reduces corpulence [15] • atching TV increases the consumption of sodas or w salted foods [16] • and reduces that of fruit and vegetables [17]. The two other predictive factors of the child’s selectivity, namely the use of coercion and alternatives, are the sign of authoritative parental behaviour which aims to force the child to eat the rejected food. «Our results are in line with previous studies which underline that authoritative and permissive strategies are associated in equal measure to child neophobia», concludes Dr Sandrine Monnery-Patris, an INRA research scientist within the FLAVIC (flavour, vision and behaviour of the consumer) mixed research unit. Setting an example Parents who eat large amounts of fruit and vegetables encourage their children as much through advice as through their own behaviour. On the other hand, ill-informed mothers who often come from modest backgrounds tend to pass on their bad habits to their offspring. Similarly, children may model their behaviour on a third party outside the family. Boys are readily influenced by the enthusiastic reaction of a teacher of the same sex to a new food, while the reaction of a fellow pupil has little impact. Girls, on the other hand, are most likely to put their trust in their best friend rather than their teacher. z Make fruit and vegetables readily available A child’s propensity to take the easy option should be exploited. Why search high and low for a packet of biscuits for tea if there is fruit already on the table in the kitchen ? And studies bear this out  : beyond sensory preferences, availability and accessibility of fruit and vegetables are the strongest determinants for consumption amongst children of between six and twelve years old [18]. A study carried out among adolescents even showed that when children have little liking for fruit and vegetables, intake can increase if the products are simply made available [19]. p. 4 - How can we make children like vegetables ?
  5. 5. © Monkey Business - ­ Parents and teachers should approach the question of diet as a whole Regarding dietary education, the experts agree that it is preferable to favour sensory education (which is linked to product history, the way it is made and the enjoyment of eating together, which aim to teach children how to enjoy the taste of vegetables), rather than nutritional education (which aims to give health advice) which is often difficult for children to understand and is therefore ineffective. This conclusion can be drawn from the following observation  : the improvement of dietary understanding is not enough to change children’s preferences, choices and consumption of fruit and vegetables. The Louis Bonduelle Foundation is supporting a study at the Pasteur Institute in Lille on this subject. The SENSORED study is seeking to evaluate if a class-based sensory education activity, carried out among 500 11-year-old schoolchildren, results in a positive development of their fruit and vegetable preferences and also an improvement in their choices along with an increase in the consumption of these foods. Begun in September 2008, this study will deliver its results in March 2011. In the meantime, it is interesting to note that according to the CREDOC/CCAF survey (2007), children declare being interested in food mainly for nutritional reasons, followed by the enjoyment dimension [20]. It would therefore appear to be of greater benefit to discuss diet as a whole. Should you talk to children about nutrition ? According to Marlène Dreyfus, a clinical psychologist at the Armand Trousseau hospital in Paris, adults should respect children’s tastes and talk to them about nutrition with the aim of making the child well-informed rather than fully-informed. The reason : without the child’s support, i.e. if you do not take their capabilities, emotions and enjoyment into account, the educational approach to nutrition runs the risk of at best not achieving its objectives and at worst causing dietary behaviour disorders. Parents and teachers are therefore required not to confuse teaching with education. Educational messages should not be taught like a lesson to be learnt off by heart and recited, but by using special tools and methodologies. How can we make children like vegetables ? - p. 5 At school, dietary education should be practical and fun Although figures vary widely by country, overall figures show that young Europeans do not eat enough vegetables. On average, the proportion of 11-15-year-old children who eat them less than once a day is around 65-70%. Malta, Spain and Italy are at the bottom of the table with less than 25 % eating vegetables every day. France is reasonably well placed with 33 to 50 % respectively of 11-year-old girls and 15-year-old boys eating vegetables each day [21]. With a view to improving levels of consumption, the Louis Bonduelle Foundation is active at a European level in supporting dietary education activities in the school environment. In Benelux, for example, there is Professor Louis Veggie whose mission is to inform children of between 3 and 12 years old about the nutritional benefit of vegetables with the aim of making them increase their consumption. An Internet site has been established for nearly a year now which plays host to a fruit and vegetable laboratory. This site can be used in two different ways : either the child can browse through it independently and click on explanations or videos, or teachers can download educational kits of different levels. This project is currently being run in partnership with schools in the Netherlands. In Italy, the Louis Bonduelle Foundation has established a partnership to develop three dietary education programmes and to spread a gastronomic culture with a high quality profile. The Orto in Condotta programme is an operation designed specially for 6 to 14-year-old. Objective : to train children to eat healthily while respecting the environment. This project, about to be given the Guadagnare Salute logo by the Italian Health Ministry (the equivalent of the PNNS logo in France), consists of activities in the classroom, kitchen and vegetable garden. Children therefore learn about the different stages from field to plate and the vegetable garden enables them to experiment while having fun. The programme also includes training for teachers and information meetings with parents.  z
  6. 6. Sustainable evolution of eating habits In practice In ­ the garden, at the market, in the kitchen… get them to join in It’s through gradually familiarising them with vegetables that children learn to like them. The familiarisation of children with different foods can be done over the long term, as previously described via , or in the short term around learning about what food is, what it looks like and where it comes from, etc., as well as by preparing meals. It’s a question of developing contact between the child and the food before it is presented on the plate. In the case of raw vegetables, for example, there exist a number of effective tips tested by the Louis Bonduelle Foundation on children and adolescents. Get them used to the raw product At the greengrocers and in the market, get your child to appreciate the colours, smells and shapes of vegetables. Teach them to identify different fruits and vegetables. Then, ask them their opinion : «Which one do you fancy ?», «Which one would you like  ?», «Look at that broccoli...», etc. Another possibility is to go and pick the vegetables together in a vegetable garden. Just being involved is an important step, as they will not feel that vegetables are being imposed on them, but quite the opposite, namely that it is their decision. Cook together Older children can peel carrots and younger children can wash, rinse and throw the vegetables into the pot with an adult’s assistance. They can also help to put together appetising dishes of mixed vegetables which, more importantly, will enable them to take pride in the appearance of the finished article. Adapt the meal to their tastes As far as raw vegetables are concerned, it is important to present them to children in small quantities and small pieces, and to incorporate them into food they already like : pasta salads, potatoes, fruit, etc. It is also advisable to season them with sauces to tone them down. For example, beat a yoghurt with two soup spoons of oil, lemon juice, a little diced shallot, fresh herbs (parsley, chervil, chives or basil), not forgetting a small pinch of salt. And tempt them by combining raw vegetables with fruit, and firm with tender. z At the table, make vegetables look attractive The way in which vegetables are prepared is important. As part of his thesis on neuroscience and cognition, David Morizet of the Paul Bocuse Institute in Lyon has evaluated the portrayal of vegetables by children aged between 8 and 11-year-old. «Mixtures of vegetables are generally not liked and, for a single vegetable, the way it is served is very important, he explains. For example, grated carrots get a positive response but carrot puree less so.» Another observation : children appear to prefer dishes where they are able to recognise the products of which they are composed. Vegetables in a multitude of forms Armed with the knowledge of children’s perceptions when faced with vegetables, a solution can be introduced to change the minds of those who baulk at the idea of cauliflower cheese, leek soup, steamed green beans and others : change the way they look. And there is no lack of possibilities. Vegetables can be served : • in savoury pancakes : these wedges of grated getables (zucchini, potatoes, carrots, etc.) are nearly always a winner. • as a puree  : colours which they normally reject (green the most often) paradoxically have the tendency to amuse them when they are in the form of a puree. Tip : to tone down the taste, add a little melted cheese (of the Laughing Cow variety). • in a flan or as a mousse  : they tend to like the creamy texture, and to limit the fat content, fromage frais can be used to replace the cream. • in a tart or quiche  : ideally suited for vegetables with the added advantage of making a complete meal. • in omelettes  : another complete meal into which just about any vegetable can be incorporated. • in stuffing  : these dishes can be prepared with children’s help, with the stuffing taking the role of modelling clay. Tip : meat stuffing can be replaced by tuna or a carbohydrate (rice, wheat, couscous, etc.). • in fritters, samosas or spring rolls  : forms which have the major advantage of being eaten with p. 6 - How can we make children like vegetables ?
  7. 7. © Ilike - the fingers. Fat content can be reduced by brushing them with oil and baking them in the oven instead of using the deep fryer. • in lasagne  : a whole variety of possible mixtures for this pasta and vegetable dish (spinach and goat’s cheese, salmon and leek, ham and broccoli, tuna and carrot, etc.). A sweet note in desserts Certain vegetables can also be used in desserts. Many are sweet or contain fibres which give a creamy texture without having too pronounced a taste. For example, this is the case with : • squashes and zucchini  : in a cake, they give a smooth texture and enable fat content to be reduced. Very good in combination with honey and nuts. • carrots and beetroot  : naturally sweet, their mellowness gives cakes a smooth texture. Carrot cake can be flavoured with coconut, almonds, semolina, etc. Beetroot is recommended for brownie-type fondant cakes. • fennel  : it’s mild aniseed flavour goes perfectly with honey. • pumpkin and sweet potato  : there is no limit for these two vegetables, they can be used in any form (tart, cake, flan, waffles, crumble...). A few further tips To keep them happy while waiting for the meal to be served, instead of giving them a biscuit or a piece of bread, get them to try a green bean, some peas or a slice of cooked carrot… and if the vegetables are not cooked yet  : open a tin of asparagus or young carrots, served cold, and let them eat with their fingers. Once sat at the table, a tip for younger children  : make their meal come alive. • Tell them a story based around their plate of vegetables. • Bring the plate to life, for example by making characters to be eaten : with salads draw hair with grated carrot, eyes with slices of cucumber, the nose with a cherry tomato and the mouth with a slice of pepper ; for purees, a few peas to make the eyes, green beans How can we make children like vegetables ? - p. 7 for eyelashes and mouth, mushrooms for the ears. A note of caution : some children identify with the character and will not eat it… • Let them serve themselves. They will gradually learn to take amounts according to their wants and appetite and it is a sign of trust to which they will respond. • Prepare pasta with very small pieces of diced tomato, green beans, zucchini, etc… as a change from ketchup. • When eating soup or puree, play a game to find all the flavours. Children love guessing games. And finally : it is important to develop the child’s role in relation to their food. They should be complimented on their choice and thanked for their assistance if they help to prepare the meal or lay the table. In general, parents should come across as convinced and convincing. And they should also be prepared to accept criticism while requesting the reluctant child’s suggestions for next time. z «Vegetables Day» In 2005, Louis Bonduelle Foundation launched «Vegetables Day» ™ campaign. Every Tuesday, commercial and public sector restaurants and canteens give vegetables the pride of place on the plate and not their usual role of simple accompaniment. The objective : to make vegetables tasty (once again) and to make people discover the multitude of flavours and uses. «Vegetables Day» has a particularly high profile in school canteens which represent 68  % of the operation’s 700 partner establishments. The chefs who are part of the operation receive recipes and packs which enable them to decorate their canteen. 73  % have seen an increase in vegetable consumption, a figure which is 20 points higher than for chefs not taking part in the operation.
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