Offering choice and its effect on Dutch children’s liking and consumption of vegetables: a randomized controlled trial

Zeinstra, G.G.; Renes, R.J.; Koelen, M.A.; Kok, F.J.; de Graaf, C.


Background: Children's vegetable consumption is below recommended amounts. According to self-determination theory, stimulating children's feelings of autonomy by offering a choice of vegetables may be a valuable strategy to increase their vegetable liking and consumption. The effect of choice-offering on children's vegetable liking and consumption has, to our knowledge, not yet been studied. Objective: The objective was to investigate whether having a choice between 2 vegetables enhances children's vegetable liking and consumption. Design: Three hundred three children (age: 4–6 y) were randomly assigned to receive 1 of 3 dinner conditions in a restaurant setting. Two similarly liked vegetables were presented, after which the child had no choice, a premeal choice, or an at-meal choice. Subsequently, the dinner was consumed with one parent present. Comparisons between the 3 conditions regarding children's meal experience, vegetable liking, and vegetable consumption were made by using analysis of variance and Kruskal-Wallis tests. Results: Children's vegetable consumption did not differ (P = 0.54) between the conditions as follows: 56 ± 45 g in the no-choice condition, 51 ± 46 g in the premeal-choice condition, and 49 ± 47 g in the at-meal-choice condition. In the no-choice condition, high-reactant children (who are more sensitive to psychological, persuasive pressure) consumed fewer vegetables (45 ± 42 g) than did low-reactant children (73 ± 43 g; P = 0.04). Vegetable liking was similar in all 3 conditions (P = 0.43). Children appreciated being able to choose in the premeal-choice condition. Conclusions: A premeal choice between 2 vegetables was appreciated by the children but did not increase their vegetable liking and consumption. The no-choice condition decreased vegetable consumption in high-reactant children. Future research should investigate the effects of choice-offering in the long term and in more familiar eating settings. This trial was registered at as ISRCTN03035138