How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

Adding dip increased broccoli consumption by 80 percent in a study. (Photo: Flickr).

Parents around the world fret over how to get kids to eat vegetables. Now, researchers may have come up with a simple solution: add a little dip.

New research published online this month in the Journal of the American Diabetic Association found that children with sensitivity to bitterness can be induced to eat more vegetables by adding a small amount of dip.

In the study, researchers examined the broccoli-eating habits of 152 pre-school aged children in the Head Start program over a seven-week period. Offering 2.5 ounces of ranch dressing as a dip increased broccoli consumption by 80 percent. The researchers noted that both low-fat and regular versions of ranch produced the same results.

To determine the kids’ sensitivity to bitterness, researchers offered them increasing amounts of a bitter-tasting compound common in green vegetables. Researchers asked the children after each one whether it tasted like water or “bitter or yucky.” About 70 percent of the children displayed sensitivity to bitterness. Researchers noted that that trait may stem from the TAS2R38 gene, which influences how we perceive bitter tastes.

Jennifer Orlet Fisher, director of the Family Eating Laboratory at Temple's Center for Obesity Research and Education, led the study.

"We know that children can learn to like vegetables if they are offered frequently, without prodding and prompting," Fisher said in a news release. "Children with a sensitivity to bitterness may avoid certain vegetables, but offering a low-fat dip could make it easier for those foods to become an accepted part of children's diet."

Fisher noted that parents can use foods such as applesauce, hummus or low-fat yogurt instead of salad dressing.