Want preschoolers to eat more veggies? Serve them and say nothing

If you want your preschooler to eat more vegetables, skip the marketing -- like all that talk about growing big and strong -- and just serve them, says a new study. Young kids ate more carrots, the study found, when they were served without any message.

Maybe this is why Popeye cartoons didn't seem to create a generation of young spinach lovers?

"We find that when serving food to preschoolers, presenting the food without any instrumental message is best," wrote authors Michael Maimaran and Ayelet Fishbach, professors, respecitvely, at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.

They think that young chlidren assume, if the food has some "instrumental message," or health goal, it likely isn't tasty, so they eat less of it. Telling them it's tasty works better than touting healthy benefits, they found, but keeping mum works best.

The study of 3 to 5 year olds involved reading short stories to kids and then presenting them with the same snack eaten by the character in the tale -- either Wheat Thins crackers or carrots.

With both foods, kids ate more when the story made no comment about the health benefits of the food.

In the section of the study with the carrots, children at a Illinois YMCA were divided into three groups. One was read a story that said carrots would help them learn to read, one was read a story that carrots were yummy and one was read a story where the character ate carrots but made no comment.

Kids in each group were then given bowls of 15 baby carrots and asked how many they wanted to eat.

The results:

Helps you learn to read: 3.5

Yummy: 6.5

No message: 7

The authors said that marketing messages may backfire with young kids, but they may have benefits if they get the adults in their lives to serve them the good stuff. They just need to offer them without any hype.




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