NEW YORK (Reuters Health)
— Parents have long poured on cheese sauce, peanut butter and
the like to coax kids to eat their vegetables, but a new study
suggests those tricks might also get children to look more favorably
at the vegetables themselves.
Preschoolers introduced to Brussels sprouts
alongside cream cheese to spread on the bitter vegetable more often
said they liked the sprouts and ate more of them, even when later
The strategy of pairing something new with something a person
already likes is known as associative conditioning and could be
helpful in encouraging kids — and adults — to eat more fruits and
vegetables, the authors say.
"This has the potential to change the eating habits of children,
including eating more vegetables, and this in turn will affect
childhood obesity," said Elizabeth Capaldi-Phillips, a psychologist
at Arizona State University and lead author of the study.
The research was published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition
In the study, parents of 29 children between the ages of three and
five years old filled out a survey about the kids' views of 11
vegetables, including whether they liked or disliked the vegetable,
or had never tried it.
Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts were among the vegetables most
children had not tried, and were selected as the ones used to gauge
children's preferences in the study.
The children were given either cauliflower or Brussels sprouts once
per day for seven days, and ate in a group of five or six children
that was led by a researcher or teacher. The vegetables were all
boiled, then were either served plain, with unsweetened cream cheese
or with sweetened cream cheese.
After this conditioning period, the kids were given the vegetables
The researchers found that children given Brussels sprouts with
cream cheese during conditioning liked them significantly more than
those given plain sprouts.
Less than one in five kids given plain sprouts said they liked the
vegetable, whereas about two-thirds of kids who got sprouts with
either type of cream cheese said they liked the vegetables.
The children liked milder, non-bitter cauliflower more overall,
and about equally whether or not it was served with cream cheese.
After the conditioning period, when children were given the plain
vegetables, those who had previously said they "liked" Brussels
sprouts ate more of them than kids who had expressed dislike.
Although previous research has found that kids need to try some new
foods eight to 10 times before they get used to the taste, the
children in the study tried the new vegetables only seven times
before they would eat them plain, the authors point out.
Such a flavor-pairing strategy could work, not only for Brussels
sprouts, but other vegetables and foods of other kinds, they
"Children develop food preferences at a young age, yet tend to be
really picky at this age, so it's important to sustain healthy
habits which will persist into adulthood," Devina Wadhera, also a
researcher at Arizona State University and the study's other author,
told Reuters Health.
"It's our job as parents, as educators to get them to accept new
foods at this time," she wrote in an email.