Most parents struggle to get their children to eat their vegetables
Well, you are not alone, and this is an issue not just here in Singapore but internationally as well. Here are some statistics to put the picture into perspective:
- Singapore: In an online statement released by Health Promotion Board about the quality of food served in school canteens, they found “…. only 25% of children aged 7 to 12 years, are served the recommended servings of vegetables and fruit daily. Additionally, among those aged 13-16 years, less than half are consuming the recommended servings of vegetables and fruit per day”.
- Australia: Almost 99% of all children and adolescents (2 to 18 years) in Australia are not meeting their daily recommended vegetable intake.
- UK: Only 1 in 5 children eats vegetables daily.
Children Don’t Eat Vegetables: So why is it hard to get kids to eat their vegetables?
Here are some possible explanations:
Fear of new or unknown foods, also known as food neophobia, is a natural behaviour seen in toddlers, and this behaviour peaks when the child is between 2 to 6 six years old. In addition, this is the period when the child starts to develop independence in his food choices and taste. Hence the combination of these two factors often end up in dinnertime war between parent and child, and sometimes with the other half.
Ask around about the main reason why people (kids and adults alike) don’t eat vegetables, and the answer that you’ll most likely get is that vegetables are bitter. This bitter taste is due to the presence of naturally-occurring calcium and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients is an umbrella term for plant-based phenols and polyphenols, flavonoids, isoflavones, terpenes, and glucosinolates, and serve as the plant’s natural self-defense system.
Plants protect themselves from predators by making these bitter-tasting compounds (i.e. phytonutrients). However, these phytonutrients do good things for us! Apparently, reports have shown that they have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties, as well as tumour-blocking activities. Therefore, diets high in vegetables and fruits are often associated with lower rates of cancer and heart disease.
Sweet- over bitter-tasting foods
Unfortunately, humans have evolved to reject bitter-tasting foods as back in the prehistoric days, ancestors who ate bitter or sour-tasting foods were more likely to die or become very ill. It is also this very reason why food manufacturers are constantly developing ways to reduce or remove these bitter-tasting components from food – the main aim is consumer acceptance.
However, when our ancestors ate sweet-tasting foods, nothing happened to them. One can say that this is very much like a survival mechanism. Hence, humans have become “tuned” to readily accept sweet-tasting foods.
Except when dealing with the stressors of today’s living (e.g. school stress, work stress, you name it), the preference for sweet-tasting foods has worked against us. Many healthcare professionals have singled out sweet-tasting foods (chocolates, lollies, soft drinks) as one of the causes of the obesity epidemic we are facing today.
As mentioned earlier, humans have an innate aversion to bitter- and sour-tasting foods, so why is it that as we grow older, we suddenly have a liking for broccoli, brussel sprouts, lemons, and the like? Did our taste buds change, you ask? The answer is no.
It is because we have grown to like these bitter- and sour-tasting foods as time goes by. Think about it – we do not expect ourselves to like something that is fed to us for the first time, especially if it is not pleasant-tasting. Often we become sensitized to that unpleasant taste when there is repeated exposure (to that food). The same can be said about children. The child would need at least 10 to 15 (repeated) exposures to a new food before accepting it. There are many reasons why children don’t eat vegetables but the health consequences can be many as well.
Health consequences of not eating vegetables
Vegetables contain important nutrients needed for a child’s proper growth and development, such as folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin C, and dietary fibre. Found mostly in dark green leafy vegetables, a child can have other choices too – such as orange-yellow coloured vegetables like carrots and yellow capsicums.
Hence, the following health problems are possible if a child has no or low daily vegetable intake:
- Poor growth and development
That said, it is also important to ensure the child eats a wide variety of vegetables as the vitamins and minerals profile of all vegetables are different.