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Is it "Healthy" or "Junky"?
"Drink your milk; it will help you grow big and strong," a parent tells her child. At what age are children able to correctly classify foods according to whether they are good for them or not?

More Fruit, Less Junk
There's a lot of concern about childhood obesity, and justifiably so: over 1 in 3 children (including adolescents) are at least overweight, if not obese. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as of 2008, 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are obese, while 18% of kids 12-19 are obese.

If It's Not Available, They Can't Eat It
Way back in May of 2007 I reported on the Intitute of Medicine's report and recommendations for school nutrition standards. In that News Bite I mentioned that the Institute recommended specifically that each school district limit their students' opportunities to choose foods that are not nutritionally approved.


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Serve more, eat more: more ways to get kids to eat more vegetables and fruits

Back in January I reported on a study that found that when small children are served a smaller portion of their entree, they tend to eat more of the vegetables and fruit served alongside the entree. When the children were served larger portions of the entree, they ate more of the entree and correspondingly less of the vegetables and fruits. Our conclusion was that an age-appropriate serving size of the entree portion of a meal along with larger portions of vegetables and fruits would help kids eat more of the vegetables and fruit.

A reasonable conclusion, certainly. Just recently a team from Pennysylvania State University and Temple University decided to test that theory (J Acad Nutr Diet 2012; 112(2):266-270): if serving more of the side dishes led to eating more, would a larger portion of only, say, the fruit portion lead to children eating more of both the fruit and the vegetable at the same meal? They expected to find that a larger portion of the either the vegetable or the fruit would mean the children eating more of both.

To test their theory they recruited 30 children between the ages of 4 and 6 (and their parents) to participate in a weekly feeding study. The children had dinner at the test site on four different occasions, once per week. The children were served a meal of pasta with tomato sauce, broccoli, canned peaches, milk, and a dipping sauce for the vegetables. In random order each child received that meal in the following amounts:

  • 1 portion of pasta, 1 portion broccoli, 1 portion peaches
  • 1 portion of pasta, 2 portions broccoli, 1 portion of peaches
  • 1 portion of pasta, 1 portion broccoli, 2 portions peaches
  • 1 portion pasta, 2 portions broccoli, 2 portions peaches

Before the first dinner meal the children were asked to rate how much they liked each of the foods: were they "yummy," "yucky," or "just-ok?"

The researchers were able to compare how much each child ate of of each food with the portions they received - as well as noting whether the child thought the food was "yucky" or "yummy" or "just-ok."

Interestingly, almost half of the children ate hardly any of the vegetable no matter how much of it they were served. Those who did eat the vegetable, however, ate almost 40% more when they were served the larger portion size. When the children were served twice as much of the fruit, they ate 70% more, and when both the fruit and the vegetable portions were doubled at the same meal, those children who liked the vegetable ate more of both.

The researchers were somewhat surprised to find that the effect of doubling the portion size of just one of the foods had no effect on how much of the other food the children ate at the same meal.

What this means for you

The researchers conclude, quite reasonably, that when the children liked the fruit or vegetable in question, they would eat more of it when it was put on their plate. While this is a small study in terms of the number of children involved, and their conclusion certainly could be investigated further in larger studies, it might be a good strategy to try to help your kids eat more fruits and vegetables: give them more of what they like.

First posted: April 4, 2012