If You Give a Kid a Chickpea Cookie

Vegetables are enjoyed when kids are familiar

(RxWiki News) If the proof is in the pudding, parents best fess up: admit to your vegetable-rejecting little one that the goodness of peas and carrots await them… in their favorite spice cake.

According to a new study, kids are less dissuaded from the idea of a familiar vegetable lurking in their snack than they are simply wary of a new vegetable they aren't familiar with at all.

"Creatively introduce your children to vegetables."

Just 21 percent of children eat enough fruits and veggies each day, defined as the minimum five servings recommended by federal guidelines, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So parents desperate to get greens into their children's tummies will try anything - including sending the brussell sprouts incognito into their child's favorite dish. But according to lead author Lizzy Pope, M.S., R.D., sneaking vegetables into yummy foods with the hopes that your unsuspecting child will swallow them hook, line and spinach may be unnecessary.

Pope's team recruited 68 elementary and middle school children and offered them two snack foods - one labeled with the vegetable that was "hiding" in the snack and one that omitted that tricky detail.

Kids were offered two broccoli gingerbread spice cake pieces, but the label for one of them left off the term "broccoli." They were also offered a "chocolate chip cookie" along with an (identical) "chickpea chocolate chip cookie" and a "zucchini chocolate chip bread" plus plain old "chocolate chip bread" (which actually still had the zucchini).

Then the big question: Did the kids think the two (actually identical) snacks tasted the same? Did they prefer one over the other?

It depended: the kids were equally happy with either of the breads but preferred the chocolate chip cookie without the vegetable label - a surprise to the investigators since they expected the children to go for the un-vegetable-labeled snacks in all three situations.

But the kids' choices may have had more to do with the children's familiarity of the three vegetables. Zucchini and broccoli were nothing new to the kids, but 81 percent had not tried a chickpea within the past year.

"These findings are consistent with previous literature on neophobia that suggests that children are less apt to like food with which they are unfamiliar," Pope said.

"It appears that there must be some familiarity with a vegetable for the labeling of the vegetable content not to influence taste preference," she said. "Considering this then, it is not surprising that the unlabeled version of the chickpea chocolate chip cookies was preferred over the labeled version."

Therefore it may be fine to come clean about the secretly stashed vegetables in the tasty foods parents prepare for their children.

"Although anecdotal reports suggest that children may not eat food products that they know contain vegetables, little is actually known about how children's taste preferences may be affected when the vegetable content of a snack food item is apparent on the item's label," said co-author Randi Wolf, Ph.D., M.P.H.

"This study is important in that it may contribute knowledge of the potential effectiveness of a novel way to promote vegetable consumption in children," Wolf added.

Pope and Wolf conclude that a better tactic for encouraging kids to eat more vegetables may exposing them to more of them rather than hiding the green goodies.

The study appears in the March/April issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Review Date: 
March 2, 2012