Kids like veggie choices, but may not eat them

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Offering young kids a vegetable choice at dinner may not prompt them to eat more of these healthy foods, hint findings from a Dutch study.

Organic vegetables are shown at a Whole Foods Market in LaJolla, California in this May 13, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files

Since vegetable eating is generally not popular among youngsters, Dr. Cees de Graaf, at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and colleagues compared whether offering 4 to 6 year old children their choice of a vegetable before or at dinner, or no choice, might alter the amount of vegetable the kids actually ate.

The investigators first determined which of 8 commonly served vegetables - carrots, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, red cabbage, beets, French beans, and spinach - were favored by each of 156 boys and 147 girls attending Dutch primary school.

Then, during a restaurant meal with their parent, 110 of the kids had a pre-meal choice between equal amounts of one of two vegetables they previously said was “okay” to eat. Another 97 had a similar choice as the meal was served, while 96 had no choice and simply found a vegetable of their liking on the plate.

According to a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers failed to see any noteworthy differences between the groups in veggie intake.

On average, kids offered pre-meal choices ate 51 grams (just over 2 ounces) of the served vegetable, while those offered at-meal choices ate 49 grams (just under 2 ounces) of the vegetable served. Those offered no choice ate 56 grams (2.24 ounces).

However, children described by parents as more “reactive” -- those likely to get angry at restrictions or do the opposite of what they are told -- ate about half the amount of vegetables when offered no choice compared with their more easy-going counterparts.

Overall, the children “enjoyed the act of choosing,” de Graaf and colleagues note in their report.

In post-meal surveys, 75 percent of the kids given a pre-meal choice said they were happy with this level of autonomy, whereas 62 to 63 percent of the other kids expressed happiness over their choice offering.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online December 9, 2009