02/04/2014 Healthy Eating, Help for Parents

(pronounced veggie-eye-tus)

-n. An imaginary condition of illness caused by the taste or even the sight of vegetables (especially the green ones).

If “eat your vegetables!” is an all too familiar phrase in your house, don’t stress. It’s not just your child who runs in the opposite direction at the sight of vegetables. In fact, it’s happening in epidemic proportions! But there is a logical explanation for this distaste of leafy greens.

When we’re born, we have an innate appreciation for sweet things, such as our mother’s milk. Children’s distaste for ‘bitter’ is equally as programmed. In fact, it is the body’s way of protecting itself against toxic alkaloids, which can cause sickness and at worst be fatal. For kids, the bitter properties in vegetables can signal the body to think it may be toxic, which stops them from eating or repulses them all together! But just because it makes sense, doesn’t mean it’s OK!  The bitter compounds – such as glucosinolates and phenolics  – are partly why vegetables are healthy and can even help prevent cancer.

An Australian study staged an intervention for 4-6-year-olds with extreme ‘veggieitis’ in their home environment. Rather than relying on strategies typically used by parents – making vegetables fun, camouflaging them or bribing them with other food – repeated exposure using positive reinforcement was tested at least ten times over a period of two weeks. Stickers helped encourage immediate and long terms effects: children tasted the vegetables during the two weeks and then maintained their consumption of these vegetables (and others!) for a further three months. You can read about another similar study that was carried out with similar results.

brussel sprout single

It’s important to cure ‘veggieitis’ and help children develop a taste for vegetables so they can reap the health benefits of eating them throughout their life. Even as adults, knowing the health benefits exist, we are driven by taste, so learning to enjoy vegetables is essential –  even broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts!  More and more research is being published that connects high vegetable consumption with a longer and healthier life, so this is one habit we all need ingrained early on.