Three Rs may hold key to kids' fussy eating

Toddlers often refuse new foods
  • Deborah Condon

When it comes to children, fussy eating is one of the most common problems faced by parents today, however following three simple steps could help solve this issue, UK researchers have claimed.

According to their findings, introducing the ‘three Rs' - repetition, role modeling and rewards - could result in children eating, and even liking, foods such as vegetables.

"Not eating enough fruits and vegetables is one of the main risk factors for global mortality. Eating more fruits and vegetables could prevent numerous cancers, stroke, diabetes and obesity.

"However, it can be very challenging for families to encourage their children to eat a healthy, balanced diet as children naturally go through stages during their toddler years when they are often fussy and will refuse new foods, particularly vegetables," explained Dr Claire Farrow of the Aston Research Centre for Child Health.

She said that while this is a ‘normal developmental stage' for children, it can often result in an increasingly restricted diet as children become more fussy about what they will consume.

"Families need evidence-based scientific advice about what they can do to help encourage children to taste, and eventually like, new or disliked fruits and vegetables," she noted.

She and her colleagues found that using the ‘three Rs' significantly increased a child's consumption and liking of vegetables that they previously disliked.

They studied 115 children aged between two and four years. The children were divided into four different groups and given the same vegetables to taste every day for 14 days.

Each group had a different ‘food intervention' technique, including repeated exposure on its own, repeated exposure and role modeling, i.e. showing the child how tasty a food is by eating it yourself, and the ‘three Rs' - repetition, role modeling and rewards, i.e. praising the child for eating the food.

The children were offered the vegetables in their own homes and the amount they consumed was measured at the end of the study.

The researchers found that by the end of the study, those who had been exposed to the ‘three Rs' were consuming significantly more vegetables than before. Furthermore, they often also liked the taste of vegetables they had previously claimed to dislike.

In fact, these children were eating an average of 4g of the vegetable in one sitting by the end of the study, compared to 0.6g at the start of the study.

Children exposed to the ‘two Rs' of repeated exposure and rewards also ate significantly more vegetables by the end of the study.

"Our research shows that a combination of repeatedly exposing children to vegetables, rewarding them for trying the food and modelling enjoying eating the vegetable yourself, can help to encourage children to taste and eventually like vegetables which they did not previously like eating.

"Eating behaviours have been shown to track throughout childhood and into adulthood, so it is vitally important that children are exposed to fruits and vegetables early in life to inform healthy eating as they grow into adolescence and adulthood," Dr Farrow said.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Appetite.


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