By Janet Helm, MS, RD
Only one in 10 Americans eats enough vegetables. The lack of veggies on the plate is rather shocking, considering all the wondrous tasty varieties, especially this time of year. It’s also easier than ever to serve up vegetables at mealtime with convenient frozen vegetables (which are just as nutritious as fresh) and pre-cut bags of fresh veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and butternut squash that can help streamline prep time.
The goal is to fill half our plates with vegetables and fruits – and there are reams of studies that tell us why this is important – everything from a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease to a healthier weight. Helping Americans pump up the produce is a major public health priority, and researchers are investigating new strategies to help raise veggie-loving kids and to encourage adults to change their veggie-deficit habits.
One new study in the journal Appetite suggests that if parents want kids to eat more vegetables on their plate, we should take a look at what’s in their glass. The researchers found that children, ages three to five, ate more veggies when they drank water instead of a sugary soft drink. So this is just another reason to skip the sweetened drinks with meals. You’ll not only help your kids avoid the extra calories and sugar, but you’ll be making the vegetables on their plate more appealing.
Another new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at several factors that can encourage vegetable and fruit intake during the teen years and young adulthood. The researchers found that certain attitudes and behaviors in adolescence predicted how many vegetables and fruits someone would eat five and ten years later. A big influence was simply having vegetables and fruits available in the home and limiting the availability of less healthy foods and beverages. Other positive influences included less frequent fast-food consumption, the parents’ own healthy eating attitudes, fewer perceived time barriers to healthy eating, and liking the taste of vegetables.
So that means it’s really important to expose kids to lots of different vegetables early in life so you can help develop their palates. Some vegetables may taste bitter at first, but keep offering them up. The taste preferences kids establish early in life tend to stick with them, so it’s vital to help them grow up loving vegetables.
For adults, a new study in the same August issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that simply serving several different vegetables at mealtime is a better strategy to boost vegetable intake than serving a large amount of a single type of vegetable. The 66 women and men in the study ate more vegetables when they were served a variety (broccoli, carrots, and snap peas), than when served any single type. The increase was more than one-half serving with the mix of veggies, and this increase remained significant even when participants were able to choose their preferred vegetable.
It seems the different sensory properties of the vegetables leads to increased intake. The researchers recommend adding several different vegetables to the plate, along with other meal-based strategies, such as increasing the portion size of vegetables and adding chopped or pureed vegetables to mixed dishes.
What are some of your strategies to promote vegetables at home?