A simple trick for children who refuse vegetables


How can young children be encouraged to eat more fruit and vegetables? A study in a Colorado-based preschool looked at ways of achieving this. And the answer is disconcertingly simple. All you need is a few pictures!

Some parents struggle daily to get their children to eat fruit and vegetables. But it is vital that they do so, because the eating behaviours they develop in childhood can affect eating decisions in adulthood. A recent study examined the links between the consumption of fruit and vegetables in pre-schoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 and… their plate!

Photos of fruit and vegetables

The children of a primary school in Colorado were given plates with compartments and pictures of fruit and vegetables during school lunch three times a week. The researchers then observed how much the children served themselves and the portion size of their servings. They then compared these data with the data set of three days in a previous week when the children ate on their usual plain white plates. The results showed that when given plates with pictures, the children served themselves more fruit and vegetables and also ate more fruit and veggies.

Influence on children’s eating behaviour

According to the researchers, the pictures on the plates could indicate a social norm, i.e., the acceptable amounts of fruit and vegetables you should eat, influencing children’s eating habits at school. The photos suggest that other children serve themselves fruit and vegetables, placing them in the compartments, and that they should do exactly the same. This type of meal could encourage children to control the quantity of food they eat, reassuring them about their food choices, teaching them to recognise how hungry they are and helping them to learn more about food.

According to the researchers, if this experiment could be replicated at home, using plates with pictures of fruit and vegetables could be a simple method for encouraging young children to eat fruit and vegetables daily. This could even have a long-term effect on their health. The best way to encourage a child to eat fruit and veg at home however is to eat them yourself! The behaviour of parents and other family members still plays a decisive role in this.

Learn more by reading our monograph

on “How to get children to love vegetables”

Melnick E. et al., JAMA Pediatrics, 2018.