Getting fussy children to eat vegetables is not a job for the fainthearted, but it has been proven to pay dividends in the form of lifelong healthy eating habits.
Recent national research commissioned by The Good Foundation confirmed the earlier a child is introduced to vegetables the better. And encouraging vegie consumption before the age of six will go a long way in helping set kids up to have a positive relationship with vegies later in life.
The virtue of “often and early” was also validated by a University of Leeds study, which found that exposing infants to a new vegetable early in life encourages them to eat more of it, compared with the act of offering new vegetables to older children. The research argued that even the fussiest of children could be swayed to eat a bit more of a new vegetable each time they were offered it, with five to 10 exposures usually able to get them to accept the vegetable.
So where does this leave us as parents? While five to 10 exposures may not do the trick for every child, the message is clear – perseverance and good routine pays.
Our research revealed that most Australian kids (71 per cent) aged 3-17 are not getting the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables. Fewer than a third eat vegies every night. Fifty-eight per cent of parents said that if they were given more time, they would like to cook more meals, and 44 per cent reported they sometimes felt guilty about not cooking more meals containing fresh vegetables.
When Australians are educated about how to cook healthy and nutritious meals at home, it works. This has been proven by independent studies at both Deakin University and the University of Melbourne, which found that when participants gained skills and food knowledge, it resulted in them consuming more vegetables.
It is this proven take-up of good food that has driven the British government’s decision to make cooking compulsory in schools for children up to age 14, a strategy the Australian government would be wise to adopt.
The classroom is the perfect setting to engage children about healthy food. Alongside their friends, children are able to have fun getting stuck in, smelling, touching and tasting fresh produce. It is in this context that Jamie Oliver’s Learn Your Fruit and Veg program has just become available to classrooms across Australia to get kids excited about food and cooking.
Andrew Muir, Jamie Oliver, Jamie Oliver's Learn Your Fruit and Veg, Jamie's Ministry of Food, Nutrition, Philanthropist, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Good Foundation