Researchers found that even children who were not initially keen on eating vegetables normally ate a bit more each time they were offered them.
Researchers from the University of Leeds gave artichoke puree to 332 weaned children aged three months to three years.
Globe artichoke was chosen as the sample vegetable because most parents said they were unlikely to offer this vegetable to children.
Each child was given between five and ten servings of at least 100g of the puree in one of three versions - basic, sweetened with added sugar or added energy, or mixed with vegetable oil.
They found that the youngest children consumed more of the artichoke puree than the eldest.
The study’s authors say this is because after 24-months-old, children become reluctant to try new things and start to reject foods, even those they previously liked.
Among the children, researchers identified four distinct groups - ‘Learners’, ‘Plate Clearers’, ‘Non-Eaters’ and ‘Others’.
Most children, 40 per cent, were classified as ‘Learners’ who increased intake of the puree over time.
Over 20 per cent of the children were ‘Plate Clearers’ as they consumed more than 75 per cent of what was offered each time.
The children who ate less than 10g even by the fifth helping of artichoke puree were classified as ‘Non-Eaters’, while 23 per cent were grouped in the ‘Others’ category as their pattern of intake varied over time.
'Non-Eaters' tended to be older pre-school aged children, who were the most fussy.
Researchers found that there was little difference in the amounts eaten over time between those who were fed basic puree or the sweetened puree. They say this suggests that making vegetables sweeter does not make a significant different to the amount children eat. It also dispels the popular myth that vegetables need to be masked or hidden in order for children to eat them.
Professor Marion Hetherington from the university's Institute of Psychological Sciences, who led the study, said, ‘For parents who wish to encourage healthy eating in their children, our research offers some valuable guidance.
‘If you want to encourage your children to eat vegetables, make sure you start early and often. Even if your child is fussy or does not like vegetables, our study shows that five to ten exposures will do the trick.’
- The research, Learning to Eat Vegetables in Early Life: The Role of Timing, Age and Individual Eating Traits, is published in the journal PLoS One.