JOENSUU, Finland — Young children are notorious for being especially picky eaters, and moms & dads the world over routinely struggle to ensure their kids eat a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland say that both parents practicing what they preach when it comes to eating habits can make all the difference when it comes healthy eating among three- to five-year-olds.
The study delved into the relationship between home food environment and parental action on vegetable and fruit consumption among young children. Instilling healthy eating habits in children from a young age often leads to dietary patterns that persist well into adulthood. So, if parents can convince their kids to eat some greens at age five, in all likelihood they’ll still be eating vegetables at age 35.
In all, 114 kindergarten age children and their parents took part in the research via a series of surveys. Raw vegetables, cooked vegetables, fruits, and berries were all analyzed separately.
Interestingly, the research team discovered that vegetable consumption habits in children are influenced a bit differently than fruits or berries. A positive maternal example was associated with consumption of raw and cooked vegetables, as well as fruits and berries. Paternal example, for whatever reason, appeared to have a more prominent impact on a child’s consumption of cooked vegetables.
“This shows that teaching children to eat their greens is not something mothers should be doing alone. A positive example set by both parents is important, as is their encouragement of the child,” comments Kaisa Kähkönen, a researcher and nutritionist from the University of Eastern Finland, in a release.
Furthermore, the study found that dinner is the most important meal of the day when it comes to teaching children the importance of vegetables. Most of the participants involved in the research regularly ate dinner together as a family, showcasing the importance of parental involvement and influence when it comes to a child’s dietary choices and predispositions.
“Variation can be created by serving raw vegetables, such as the ever-popular cucumber and tomato, accompanied by cooked ones. In fact, many root vegetables, cabbages and squashes are best served cooked,” Kähkönen adds.
Meanwhile, if you’re hoping to incite your child to eat more fruits, the researchers say fruits can make a great evening snack for kids to share with mom & dad.
It’s also worth noting that, overall, the research uncovered that the majority of modern families aren’t eating as many fruits and vegetables as they really should. Cooked veggies and berries were identified as the most often ignored foods studied for this project.
The study is published in Food Quality and Preference.