Children and vegetables: a difficult combination? How do we learn children to eat (more) vegetables

The research was carried out within the HabEat project; a multi-disciplinary project (psychology, epidemiology, behavioural science, nutrition and sensory science) on understanding of how infants and children develop and form food habits and on exploring strategies to change these habits within early childhood (< 5 years). The project focusses mainly on the improvement of vegetable acceptance in young children.

Recent surveys have shown that children’s diets in many European countries are unbalanced, do not contain enough fruit and vegetables, and have been associated with a high prevalence of childhood obesity. Early nutrition may have an impact on health later in life. Therefore it is important to understand how food habits are formed. In this research different learning mechanism (e.g. repeated exposure, conditioning, flavour-flavour and flavour nutrient learning, choice offering) known to be involved in food preference forming have been examined on its impact on children’s vegetable acceptance.

Results across different studies in different countries showed that repeated exposure is an effective strategy to increase liking and intake of a novel or/and unfamiliar vegetable among young children. Once the child has accepted the novel taste and is willing to eat the vegetable, that is, the vegetable has become familiar; choice-offering could be implemented as a strategy to further increase vegetable consumption until the child has reached the recommended daily amounts.


More reserch: Sensory and metabolic drivers of eating behaviour