Nutrition storybooks help children eat more vegetables
Parents are in a never-ending struggle to get their kids to eat vegetables—and for good reason. According to one Ohio State University study, only 22 percent of children between the ages of two and five meet government recommendations for vegetable consumption. With that nagging statistic lurking, parents have tried everything. Approaches can range from growing vegetables at home to banning treats until everything on the dinner plate has been eaten. So what really works?
Findings from a recently published study reveal that using a conceptual approach helps kids better understand why healthy foods are important and why their bodies need a variety of foods, and in turn, causes them to eat more veggies—by choice.
“Children have natural curiosity—they want to understand why and how things work,” explained researchers Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman of Stanford University, in a statement. “Of course, we need to simplify materials for young children, but oversimplification robs children of the opportunity to learn and advance their thinking,” they said.
Researchers of the study, published in late June in the journal Psychological Science, developed five storybooks designed to highlight key concepts about food and nutrition, including the importance of variety, how digestion works, the different food groups, nutrient characteristics and how nutrients help the body function.
Over a three-month period, researchers read a different book each week in two preschool classrooms during snack time while two other classes had snack time as usual. Later, researchers asked the children, ages four to five, questions about food, nutrition and bodily functions to determine their understanding of the concepts in the books.
Children who had been read the nutrition books were more likely to understand that food contained nutrients and that different kinds of nutrients were important for various bodily functions—even some not mentioned in the books. These children were also more knowledgeable about digestive processes, understanding such concepts as how the stomach breaks down food and how blood carries nutrients.
After the three-month study, the children who were read to voluntarily ate twice as many veggies at snack time, while those children who were not read to ate mostly the same amount as before.
When the researchers’ approach went up against a more conventional teaching strategy that focused on the enjoyment of healthy eating and trying new foods, they found that both methods led to children eating more veggies. However, those who were read to in the study increased their vegetable intake overall and showed more nutrition knowledge.
The researchers agreed that more research is needed to find out whether the healthy eating gains would translate to other mealtimes, including those at home, and how long they last.
“There is no magic bullet to encourage healthy eating in young children,” the researchers said. “We view our approach as unique but possibly complementary to other strategies. In the future, our concept-based educational materials could be combined with behaviorally focused nutrition interventions with the hope of boosting healthy eating more than either technique alone.”
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