In a time when healthy diets are the talk of the town, researchers have discovered a creative way to encourage kids to eat veggies.
The study was conducted by scientists at Texas A&M University, who studied half eaten plates of food, from 8,500 students. They noticed that what matters most in order to encourage veggie consumption is making these nutrients seem like the most attractive choice.
Overall, the solution is simple: you need to pair the vegetables with a less appetizing meal, to make kids more likely to opt for them. For example, if salad is placed next to a burger or chicken nuggets, children will most likely ignore the leafy greens entirely. However, if the alternative is a less scrumptious deli sandwich then children will actually prefer the salad.
On the other hand, combining popular vegetables, such as fried potatoes, with less attractive main courses makes children ignore the entrées entirely and focus on the starchy veggies. If the entrée is combined with a hugely unpopular veggie like broccoli, then children only eat the main dish.
“Pairings of entrées and vegetables are an important consideration when assessing plate waste among elementary school children”, concluded the experts.
The study is also supported by Traci Mann, professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota. According to her, context is essential when it comes to eating vegetables, and certain strategies can be employed to encourage consumption of these healthy items.
Basically, when faced with a plate of different types of food, people should first eat the veggies, to curb their hunger, and only afterwards turn to the rest of the meal. This way, vegetables would no longer lose when pitted against more attractive options.
Current study findings may not only reduce food waste in school cafeterias, but they may also encourage healthier eating habits among children.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 1 in 10 kids consumes the recommended amount of vegetable servings. Ideally, veggie intake should range between ¾ cup a day for infants and 3 cups daily for a 14-18 year old teenager.
However, vegetable consumption has remained nearly unchanged in recent years, and around one third of this quantity is represented by white potatoes. 67% of these are actually consumed as chips and French fries, two meals known for their high fat content and potential carcinogenic effect.
In addition, although elementary schools are obliged by the National School Lunch Program to incorporate vegetables into meals, few children actually eat these food items. 42% of veggies are wasted, with girls and younger kids being more likely to discard these important nutrients.
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