Offering infants a frequent taste of vegetables may be a way to turn them on to healthy food, a study suggests.
Scientists found that starting early was the key to encouraging children to eat up their greens – or, in this case, artichoke.
The vegetable was chosen for the experiment because a survey showed it to be one of the least popular with parents.
Most babies given frequent small meals of artichoke puree increased the amount they ate over time, while 21% fell into the category of “plate clearers” who gobbled up more than 75% of each helping.
Trying to introduce artichoke to older children was much less successful, confirming that children become wary and more fussy about food by the age of two or three.
Lead researcher Professor Marion Hetherington, from the Institute of Psychological Sciences at the University of Leeds, 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 veggies, our study shows that five to 10 exposures will do the trick.”
The study, published in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, involved 403 British, French and Danish pre-school children aged four months to three years.
It indicated there was no need for parents to disguise vegetables or offer them to their children by stealth.
Among participants there was little difference in the amount eaten over time between those given basic and a sweetened version of the puree.
Each child was given up to two 100g pots of artichoke puree per meal, and after five to 10 exposures the amount they ate was measured.
Children were split into four groups. The majority, 40%, were “learners” whose intake increased over time. In addition to “plate clearers”, 16% of the group turned out to be “non eaters” who consumed less than 10 grams of puree even by the fifth serving.
The remainder were “others” whose intake pattern varied over time.
“Non-eaters” tended to be older children, the scientists found.