Eat your vegetables!

18/02/2014 Crunch&Sip, Healthy Eating, Help for Parents

It’s an all too familiar phrase, “Eat your vegetables!” Whether it’s imprinted in your memory from your own childhood, or whether you’re the one now reciting it to your toddlers. We all know we need to eat more vegetables.

Is anyone eating enough?

We hear time and again that few people, including kids, eat the recommended amount of vegetables. In Australia, 9 out of 10 adults don’t even eat the recommended daily serves of veggies. For young children it’s almost as bad: eight out of ten children aged four to eight years old don’t eat the recommended serves. Given this, it’s always good to hear practical ideas that help to increase vegetable intake without too much protest.

Make vegetables a first course

A study in the US investigated how serving different sized portions of raw carrots before the main lunch meal affected the overall intake of vegetables at that meal.

Children in a day care centre were served 30g, 60g or 90g of raw carrots and given 10 minutes to eat them before their main course of pasta, broccoli, apple sauce and milk was served. The carrots were served once a week over four weeks, with the serve size of carrots varying each week. The inclusion of broccoli in the main course allowed the study to determine if  serving vegetables in the first course affected vegetable intake in the main course.

The good news

The good news is the total vegetable consumption of the meal (carrots + broccoli) increased as the portion of carrots was increased. Broccoli consumption was not affected by serving carrots as a first course, regardless of their portion size. Hooray for veggies!

When no vegetable first course was served, the children ate a total of about 21g of vegetables. When 30g of carrots were served as a first course, total vegetable consumption doubled to approximately 44g, and this nearly tripled to 58g when 60g of carrots (about half a cup) were served as a first course. This is almost equivalent to a standard serve of vegetables (75g) as defined by the Australian Guide to Healthy eating. Overall vegetable consumption didn’t increase any further when 90g of carrots were served.

What you can do

This study suggests that serving a portion of vegetables at the start of a meal, in absence of any other competing foods, is a useful way to increase the amount of veggies your children eat.  When your child asks “Is dinner ready yet?” as you’re preparing dinner, it is the perfect opportunity to serve some raw vegetables while you’re cooking the main meal. Don’t be concerned about “spoiling their appetite”, as filling up on nutritious vegetables to the detriment of other meal components is hardly a bad thing!