Salad gold: Aussie kids can be vegie kids

16th March 2021 | Eativity editors

Strong development depends on healthy eating, but children are still refusing to eat enough vegetables. Now nutrition and dietetics researchers have found some new solutions.

A new paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that up to 10 or more exposures to a particular vegetable when the child is between the age of six months and five years can lead to greater chances of them liking vegetables and eating more of them.

The nutrition and dietetics researchers from the Flinders University Caring Futures Institute and Australia’s national science agency CSIRO have also found that the foundations for liking vegetables can even be laid before a child is born.

“It appears that the maternal diet also plays a part through exposure to vegetable flavours in-utero and increasing children’s chances of liking and eating them later, and the same goes for the mothers’ diet while breastfeeding,” says study co-lead author Flinders University Professor Rebecca Golley, Deputy Director of the Caring Futures Institute.

Evidence was found for other strategies such as offering veg as a first food (not fruit), using non-food rewards to encourage the eating of veg and reading kids vegie-based story books.

With the right encouragement, kids can learn to embrace veg.

Start ‘em early

With the Australian Health Survey showing only six percent of kids aged 2-17 are eating the recommended amount of veg, experts say more tailored practical advice is needed on how to offer vegies to kids through repeated exposure and daily variety to increase their intake.

While the strategy of repeatedly exposing young children to vegetables to assist flavour familiarity and intake is not new science, there is a gap between evidence and advice.

With food preferences established within a child’s first five years of life, Professor Golley says that it’s crucial to establish healthy eating behaviours early to support growth, development and lifelong dietary habits.

“We know that a lack of vegetable consumption across the lifespan has effects on health, including an increased risk of chronic diseases, obesity and being overweight,” Professor Golley says. “That’s why getting children to like a variety of vegetables is so important.”

“Early eating behaviours are impressionable and babies and young children can be supported to try different foods and to learn to like them.”

The Big Vegie Crunch

A NSW initiative to get more kids crunching on veg is happening this week, with Vegetable Week & The Big Vegie Crunch returning in 2021. Vegetable Week (March 15 to 19) is a free health promotion event funded by NSW Health which operates in NSW primary schools.

The focus of the event – and the bit that gets kids excited – is The Big Vegie Crunch, to be held at 10am on Thursday, March 18. At that exact moment, tens of thousands of primary school students across NSW will join together and simultaneously munch on veg. Students are aiming to beat the 2018 record, when 50,260 students crunched on veg simultaneously.

Katie Booth from Healthy Kids Association, says that fun, interactive, school-based events like The Big Vegie Crunch can influence the variety and amount of vegies kids choose to eat.

“It’s recommended that kids between the ages of four and 12 eat around five serves of vegies each day,” she says. “Events like this in the school setting, combined with positive peer influence and education around food, can improve awareness and help kids to try different types of vegies. We hear so many stories of parents amazed at how their children are eating more vegies, and a greater variety of vegies, after their school gets involved.”

Vegetable Week & The Big Vegie Crunch provides free resources to teachers in registered primary schools in NSW. You can find out more at healthy-kids.com.au

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