The Counter-Intuitive Advice to Get Kids Eating Healthy

Apricot

If you are a parent, or still remember your childhood days, you know that getting kids to eat more veggies is not always easy. A behavioral scientist who happens to be a parent of three young children decided to conduct an experiment to discover the optimal means of persuasion. Which of the following 3 strategies will yield the best results?

  1. Eat it, it’s good for you
  2. Eat it, it’s tasty
  3. Eat it

The surprising results are published in the Journal of Consumer Research, but we’ll spare you the trouble and reveal that the minimalist approach (3) won!

The experiment, conducted by Prof Ayelet Fishbach of Chicago Booth School and Michal Maimaran of Northwestern University, was conducted on preschoolers at a YMCA in the Chicago suburbs. The children were each read a short story that included mention of a girl eating a Wheat Thin cracker. When it came to the Wheat thins, kids were randomly read one of three versions – “healthy”, “tasty”, or no description.

Shortly thereafter, each child was presented with a bowl of crackers from which he or she could partake. The children who were told the crackers are healthy ate an average of 3. When they were told the crackers were tasty – 7 crackers. But when no descriptor was added – 9 crackers were eaten!

This was a surprising result, but it was consistent across 4 additional studies with young children. In trying to explain the outcome of the experiment, the researchers discuss the dilutive effect that marketing messages may have on people – stating benefits beyond the implicit benefit of hunger satiation may actually cause confusion and a decrease in motivation to eat.

What should parents do? Try serving broccoli without saying anything about it.

 

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  • Stardust

    Although this could be a way to get kids to eat more veggies, it still doesn’t teach them what types of foods are good for them, and it doesn’t encourage them to eat healthier foods for a better and longer life.

    • Seajay

      That’s where good parenting comes in to play.

  • Catherine

    I like this. I think the whole food issue has become unnecessarily complicated. We ought to have some instincts still hanging on within us to just eat surely! I just don’t understand why, as a species, we have so much education for such a basic survival skill.

  • Marie

    If people cooked (and I mean it cooked it good!!) the vegetables they would not be so hard to eat. I am originally from France and we cook the vegetables until they are very soft. In the US I found vegetable not cooked enough. I have been told it is to keep the vitamins and all, but the result is people are not eating them!!! So do you prefers kids who eat vegetables or full vitamins vegetables not eaten??! I have picked a side and my kids eat just fine :-)

  • jadegreen_eyz

    My son was always good about eating his veggies as a child and I give credit to his pediatrician for that. When he was an infant, the doctor instructed me to start him on strained veggies initially and then gradually add in strained fruit; otherwise, he would develop a preference for fruit (due to its sweetness) and be less willing to try a variety of veggies. Dr. E. was right and my son grew to willingly eat a wide variety of foods at a young age. As an adult, he shares my pleasure of eating Asian (I’m half Japanese), spicyTex-Mex and American cuisine (but he won’t touch my kimchi with a 10 ft. pole).

    • AdoptiveMum2Seven

      I don’t understand the struggle other parents have in getting their children to eat their veggies. While at a buffet one time, my 3-y-o asked for broccoli. A man near us couldn’t believe she actually asked for broccoli!! I think I was more surprised that he was surprised at that than how surprised he was that she asked for *gasp* broccoli!!

      I have always served a meat and two veggies with dinner, or a meat, a starch, and a veggie. My children have never questioned a veggie, it’s just a ‘given’ that we eat veggies with meals. They love celery with sandwiches. Yes, raw celery!

      If parents don’t make a big deal about it, neither will their children. Who came up with the crazy idea that children should be expected to dislike veggies, anyways??

  • OutThereBad

    Ummm. What happened to just telling said children to eat them? As a child, I didn’t have a choice. If I didn’t eat them, I starved. Woke up the next morning, they’re they were; wilted and all. Plain and simple. If they’re not paying the bills, cooking, or buying groceries… “eat it” was sufficient in my household. Guess it’s a black thing

    • Kim

      I agree 100%.
      Now a days, there are too many KIDS running the household. Either you eat/ drink what I give you (which is often healthy & delicious) or you’re not really hungry. Plan and simple.

    • Morebaconplease

      It’s not a black thing. It’s a parenting thing. I like good food. I like to cook good food. My kids have grown up eating good food. Home cooked healthy meals (most of the time) is the norm. They know the difference between food, snacks and junk.

  • Adam

    So just tell your kids that candy and chips are healthy and they won’t eat as much ;)

  • J

    Kids really like the taste of wheat thins. I’d like to see this experiment repeated using broccoli stems or even carrot sticks. It’s too much to extrapolate the results to a food which isn’t so oily and salty.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      The experiment was repeated with carrots, and the results were similar.

    • Kristen

      My thoughts exactly!! Why wouldn’t they just use veggies for the experiment??!

  • Arania Lawakiro

    Germany here, and we do not overcook our veggies. I grew up with (and loved) veggies of all kinds cooked you you still can feel you have actual food in your mouth, not mash. No one had to tell me to eat my veggies, and most of the kids I grew up with ate them as well. If you didn’t like a few, no worries, eat the others. My son grew up the same way and often ate more veggies or salad than anything else. His friends? Not so much, with few exceptions, because their parents served fast food.

    It is what you grow up with what you like most.

  • http://www.supermom101.com/ SuperMom101

    Wow – this experiment rings true for me. I missed out on eating roasted Brussel Sprouts when I was growing up and discovered them a year or so ago. Quick and easy to prepare and roast after a long day at work. I was eating a bunch in front of the TV with our then 13 year old. He kept asking me what it was and I pretended not to hear him. The third time I asked if he’d like to try one and he ate the rest on my plate. (Rarely do we eat in front of the television so maybe he thought it was something really special.)

  • Tris J

    I craved veggies and fruits during my pregnancy and while nursing I ate a full spectrum of foods that included strong flavors like garlic, ginger, and fresh herbs. Now I fight with my daughter at the market and in our garden to stop eating all my fresh greens before I get a chance to wash or cook them!!! I’m convinced that children go for what they see parents eating from the time they’re born. If you sit and munch chips in front of the tv and drink crap sodas why would you expect you child to want the veggies you yourself won’t touch? Lead by example. They are children and highly impressionable.

    • Alexis

      Well, this isn’t always the case. I eat mostly huge salads, and very little processed food. I don’t even watch TV. We don’t have soda in the house, and very little junk food. However, it is a daily battle to get my 3 young boys to eat veggies and fruits.

  • Morebaconplease

    “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it. Or don’t eat it. But don’t ask for anything else. Breakfast is 13 hours away.”

  • loveydz

    When kids were small, I would cook small amounts of a new food and tell kids it was for mommy and daddy. They could have a taste and if they wanted more, I’d cook more next time. Less food wasted, more experimentation. I’ll never forget when my son came home from college, sat down to dinner and actually exclaimed ” yeah, brussel sprouts!” My now adult children eat all kinds of fruits, vegetables and proteins and love to try new foods.