Parenting pro tip: Kids will eat more veggies if you let them play first

School cafeteria old school
CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

The science of veggies eating

A new study to be published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine finally gives an answer - at least a partial one - to the burning question that many parents are faced with: How do I convince my little treasure to eat more veggies?

The researchers enrolled the help of 7 schools where kids from 1st to 6th grade go. Three of the schools switched recess from after to before lunch, while four similar schools were used as controls and kept recess after lunch. The data was then collected over 2 weeks at each of the schools to determine what the average number of fruits and veggies eaten and how much food was wasted by the students.

fruits and veggies photoMartin Cathrae/CC BY 2.0

The results were rather encouraging: Moving recess to before lunch increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by "0.16 servings per child", which might sound small, but it represents a 54% increase, which is huge. Pre-lunch recess also increased the number of children eating at least one serving of fruits or vegetables by 10% points.

Another beneficial effect of this simple change was the dramatic reduction in wasted food, by about 40%.

I think it's fairly easy to guess some of the reasons why this works. Young kids are excited to go play, so they'll rush through lunch and only eat was is quickest and easiest. But if you've already played, what's in front of you is class, so you're probably not in as much of a hurry. This doesn't just apply in school; parents who have their kids sit down for a set period of time to eat should be more successful in having them eat well than those who let them run along as soon as they are done, encouraging them to rush and possibly skip over the veggies.

Also, many kids probably don't like veggies as much as other things in their lunches, so if they aren't really hungry, they might simply not eat them (seems obvious, yet obvious things sometimes take time to figure out and implement; how long did it take humanity to put wheels on our luggage?). That's the benefit of working up an appetite before eating lunch; everything is more delicious and appealing when you're more hungry!

vegetables facesRick Ligthelm/CC BY 2.0

Of course this isn't a panacea, and it won't help if kids don't have access to nutritious food in the first place, but it's one more tool in the toolbelt for parents and educators!

Via Journal of Preventive Medicine, LiveScience

Tags: Health | Kids

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