As a dietitian and parent of a picky eater I am often distraught over the vegetables that go untouched on my child's plate. I've read many good books that describe how to feed your child so he/she will eat (and like!) healthy foods, but vegetables is one food group that I just can't seem to conquer. Despite the variety and great number of times I offer vegetables, my child just won't touch them – not even peas, corn, or potatoes! Recently, however, we've had one success – raw carrots. Recent research from Wageningen University (the Netherlands) has given me some insights into what I might be doing wrong…
Researchers served two readily available and commonly eaten vegetables – carrots and french beans – that had been mashed, steamed, boiled, stir-fried, grilled, and deep-fried to over 250 children aged 4 to 12 years. The children were then asked which vegetables they preferred. Results showed that the majority of the children like the steamed or boiled vegetables best. Researchers attributed this to the fact that the steamed and boiled vegetables retained their original taste, color, and crunchiness. Furthermore, they found that brown patches on vegetables (from stir-frying or grilling) were a turn-off to the children and that crunchy vegetables were much more appealing than slimy ones - 'mouth-feel' was very important. Children ages 4 to 6 years seemed to view vegetables according to their color and shape whereas older children (11 and 12 years) grouped vegetables by more abstract qualities like tastiness and the time of eating.
So what does all of this boil down to? Think about how the vegetables you serve look and feel to your child. The researchers point out that when teeth and jaw muscles are in the developing stage children may have less control over the food in their mouth. A vegetable that is crunchy and has a uniform surface without brown coloring and without a granular texture is your best bet.
Need some recipes for crunchy, colorful, smooth veggies? Check out these sites:
Zeinstra, G.G. (2009). Parental child-feeding strategies in relation to dutch children's fruit and vegetable intake. Public Health Nutrition, 22, 1-10.