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Kids Enjoy the Low-Fat Version, Too

Helping overweight children lose weight is tricky. Not only do they need a certain amount of excess calories to foster healthy growth, but as any parent will tell you, small children like to eat things that taste good to them, and they won't eat things that don't taste good.

Researchers at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center noted this and wondered how kids would react to lower-fat versions of their favorite foods (Appetite 2011;57(3):573-577). Based on other studies in adults, they believed that the children would prefer the higher-fat versions over the lower-fat versions.

To test this theory, they recruited seventy-four children between the ages of 4 and 6 (along with their parents) to participate in a feeding study. The kids were brought into the food lab on two separate occasions and fed the same dinner meal each time: macaroni and cheese, pudding, plain milk and chocolate milk. The only difference between the two meals was that in one version, all the foods were high in fat, while in the other version, all the foods were low in fat. The recipes used for the low-fat versions of the macaroni and cheese and the pudding were developed to taste the same as the high-fat versions, although they had fewer calories.

The children, who were all of normal weight for their age and height, were allowed to eat as much as they wished on both dinner occasions, and the researchers recorded how much they ate, both by weight and by the number of calories they consumed. The children were asked to rate how the food tasted, as well.

The researchers found that regardless of which meal the children had, they tended to eat about the same amount of food by weight. And as you might expect, since the lower-fat foods contained fewer calories, the number of calories they ate at that meal was smaller as well.

The biggest surprise - given that kids of that age won't eat what they don't like - is that the children rated the taste of the two meals the same.

What this means for you

Kids aren't the only ones who can't tell the difference between well-crafted recipes that are lower in fat and calories and their higher-fat counterparts. That's why I create my recipes to be satisfying and full of flavor while still being great for you. Try my Creamy Mac and Cheese recipe - kids love it!

First posted: September 7, 2011