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NUTRITION SOCIETY BLOG
Paper of the Month: Nudge children to eat more vegetables
Do you remember the last time you were at a buffet and regretted not trying everything? All of the tempting varieties of foods to try make resistance difficult! Researchers from the ETH Zürich have now shown that exactly this effect can be used strategically to improve children’s food choices: variety truly is the spice of life, even when it comes to vegetables! When given a variety of healthy choices, children choose a more balanced and nutrient-rich meal.
For this recent study, 100 children aged 7 to 10 years old were invited to the laboratory to select and serve themselves a meal from a small buffet of fake foods (The Fake Food Buffet*). The foods on the “buffet” included chicken strips and pasta, along with the vegetable choices of cooked carrots and beans. Children were randomly assigned to the experimental conditions: they could either serve one vegetable with the meal or they were offered both vegetables.
The children in the group that were offered two vegetables instead of only one served themselves significantly more vegetables. Interestingly, however, they did not serve themselves a meal with higher calorie content. This means that the children offered two vegetables had a higher proportion of energy from vegetables, composing a more nutrient-dense meal. Even children that reported not liking these vegetables served themselves more veggies if they were offered two types rather than one.
So why did children choose more vegetables when offered two instead of only one? Researchers explain that this occurs due to a 'consumption norm'. This theory suggests that if children are presented with several different foods to choose and serve from, they will serve themselves at least a taste of all of the dishes. Thus, when children are given the choice of more varieties of healthy foods, in the end, they serve themselves a more nutrient-rich meal.
Researchers conclude from this experiment that offering a variety of vegetables to children might be a simple and effective strategy to nudge them to eat more vegetables and healthier meals, not just at home, but also in school cafeterias.
Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED), Zurich, Switzerland
*The Fake Food Buffet is a validated and novel method that allows for the study of environmental influences on food choice under well-controlled laboratory conditions. Dr. Bucher together with the team at the ETH Zürich, developed this method and conducts ongoing research to explore the influence of environmental changes on meal composition in adults and children.