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Tricking Kids Into Eating Vegetables Works!

Cauliflower gratin
Cauliflower gratin
Malcolm Bedell/FromAway.com

Smothering vegetables in things like cheese sauce, peanut butter and ketchup helps children develop a taste for vegetables, scientists have found.

An Arizona State University study found that children introduced to Brussels sprouts with cream cheese were more likely to eat them and say they liked them - even when they were later served plain. (Pairing something yucky with something good to trick someone into liking the gross thing is called associative conditioning. Try it at home!)

"This has the potential to change the eating habits of children, including eating more vegetables, and this in turn will affect childhood obesity," said Elizabeth Capaldi-Phillips, a psychologist at Arizona State and lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (As long as you don't overdo it on the cheese sauce.)

For the study, the parents of 29 children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old filled out a questionnaire about the kids' opinions about 11 vegetables.

Since many of the children had not tried cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, those vegetables were chosen as the ones to gauge children's preferences.

The victims preschoolers were given either cauliflower or Brussels sprouts once a day for seven days. (Seriously, doesn't that violate some kind of U.N. anti-child torture statute?)

The vegetables were boiled and then were either served plain, with unsweetened cream cheese or with sweetened cream cheese.

After this one-week "conditioning" period, the children were all given the vegetables plain.

The researchers found that the kids given Brussels sprouts slathered with cream cheese during conditioning liked them significantly more than those given plain sprouts. Less than one in five of the kids given plain Brussels sprouts said they liked them, whereas about two-thirds of those who got sprouts with either type of cream cheese said they liked the sprouts.

After the conditioning period, when children were given plain vegetables, those who had previously said they liked Brussels sprouts ate more of them than the kids who had expressed dislike. Researchers saw similar results with the cauliflower, which the kids liked better overall than Brussels sprouts.

Such devious flavor-pairing could work for other vegetables and food, the researchers say.

"Children develop food preferences at a young age, yet tend to be really picky at this age, so it's important to sustain healthy habits which will persist into adulthood," Devina Wadhera, the study's co-author, told Reuters Health.

"It's our job as parents, as educators to get them to accept new foods at this time," she said.

This works for adults too - just ask the French.


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