Getting children to eat their vegetables is every parent's challenge, and has spawned an industry of how-tos, including a subgenre of how to hide the dreaded green stuff or trick kids into eating it. But the answer, it turns out, might be the opposite of conventional wisdom: The more kids see of their vegetables, the more likely they are to eat them.
Children who help prepare their own meals have healthier eating habits than children who don't, according to a survey of 5th grade students in Alberta, Canada, conducted by the University of Alberta, and originally reported by ScienceDaily.com.
The survey found that kids who help with the cooking tend to opt for fruits and vegetables more frequently than children who don't. This was found by asking a group of children to rate how much they liked fruits and vegetables on a scale of 1 to 10. Overall, the kids in the sample gave vegetables a 6.5 rating, but the children who helped out in the kitchen rated veggies a whole point higher than the ones who don't. Also, 30 percent of the children sampled helped cook at least once a day while 12 percent never cooked. On the whole, the study found that children who are involved in the cooking process are more likely to understand the importance of healthy eating.
"Involving children in the cooking process is also a great way to show them how different styles of cooking and meal prep can bring out different flavors in the food," nutritionist Erin Palinski of the Vernon Nutrition Center told Yahoo! Shine. "This 'experimentation' is fun for children and also a great way for them to learn they like the taste of many new fruits and vegetables."
As promising as this research sounds, any parent knows that kids can be notoriously finicky about what they eat.
Phyllis Grant of the food blog Dash and Bella told Yahoo! Shine that when it comes to kids and vegetables, no method guarantees success. "My kids are more likely to try the food at dinner if they've helped make it, but pickiness is part of being a kid. No amount of trimming, steaming and sautéing broccoli is going to make my daughter like it any better."
Grant's blog, named after her two children, documents her process of cooking with and for her children, including lots of sophisticated fare such as pesto and bacon-wrapped figs with goat cheese and crème fraiche .
"My kids do absolutely everything," said Grant, "They chop with chef knives, knead, stir. The only thing I don't let them do alone is caramelize sugar."
Grant offered another bit of insight into how a kid decides what to eat.
"Just as important to hanging in the kitchen with your kids is going to the market with them. If you give them some ownership of choosing the meal, like picking the vegetables or designing the recipe, then they're also way more likely to eat dinner, at least in my house."