Nutrition-wise blog

Why a picture of broccoli is worth a thousand words

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. February 22, 2012

Many who know me have heard me tell this story, perhaps selfishly to reassure myself that someday my kids will change their mind about a certain food.

A fellow dietitian made a salad for the evening meal nearly every night of the week. At each meal, she put a small portion of salad on her children's plates. She continued this for years even though her children never ate the salad. When her children became teens, they began helping with dinner. And what did they make? Salad. Better yet, they ate it!

We know from researchers that repeated exposure to nutritious food can increase the quantity of fruits and vegetables children eat. However, it may take upwards of 10 to 15 exposures to a new food.

Recognizing that this may be too tough a task for even the most well-intentioned parents, researchers have looked at whether pictures of fruits and vegetables can achieve the same results. And indeed evidence suggests that exposing toddlers to picture books about fruit and vegetables can increase their willingness to accept these foods into their diet.

It seems logical when you consider the successful marketing of fast food, snack foods and sugary beverages. Do you know any parents who haven't been bombarded by requests for foods their kids have seen on TV?

Why not put this technique to work for you? Give it a try with these tips:

  • Read kids books with pictures of fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods.
  • Invite older kids to find dinner ideas by looking at cookbooks or food websites.
  • Take kids to the grocery store (when you're not too rushed) and let them explore. Together choose a new whole food to try.
  • Decorate with food. Keep fruit, vegetables and grains in attractive containers where kids can see them. Allow kids to choose these foods as snacks.
  • Be patient. Don't push food on kids. Instead, put a small amount — a tablespoon — of the target food on their plates. Let them see you eating and enjoying it. Repeat, over and over again. Don't despair. Remember it might take days, months or years to see results.

Please share your stories on how you have won over your child, spouse or other loved one to a particular food.

To our children's health,

Katherine

Feb. 22, 2012