Children eat twice as many vegetables after seeing adults happily gobble down greens

BIRMINGHAM, England — If you want to get your kids to eat their veggies, make sure you show them how much you love eating them too. Research shows that adults exhibiting positive facial expressions while eating vegetables help children consume more than double the amount otherwise!

The study of 111 British children between ages 4 and 6 was conducted by scientists from the College of Health and Life Sciences at Aston University in England. Participants were shown one of three videos. In two of them, the children watched unfamiliar adults eating raw broccoli with either a positive or a neutral facial expression. The third video, used as a control, was not food related.

Researchers then gave the kids raw broccoli and used a seven-point scale from turning away from it to both swallowing and accepting it. Their intake of the vegetable was measured by the number of grams of raw broccoli consumed, and the number of times children tasted the greens.

They found that children who were exposed to video clips of adults enjoying eating broccoli had more tastes of, and ate, on average, more than twice as much of the vegetables in comparison with the kids in the control group. More specifically,  those who watched the veggie videos ate on average 11g (0.4 oz) of broccoli versus 5g (0.2 oz).

The findings could help children become more accepting of less popular vegetables like broccoli, which none of the kids had tried before.

“One explanation for the beneficial effect of positive facial expressions whilst eating could be that conveying food enjoyment gives the observer information about the safety and palatability of food,” says study co-author Katie Edwards, a PhD researcher at Aston, in a statement. “Raw broccoli was novel for most participants. Thus, children may have eaten more broccoli after watching adults enjoy eating it, because they believed it was enjoyable to eat.”

Interestingly, the researchers were surprised to find that seeing adults enjoying raw broccoli did not impact the children’s initial willingness to try the vegetable. This suggests that smiling while eating green vegetables can encourage children to taste and eat more of that vegetable.

“Further work is needed to determine whether a single exposure to adults enjoying broccoli is sufficient and whether these effects are sustained over time,” says Edwards.

The study is published in the journal Appetite.

South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.

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