The Use of Repeated Exposure and Associative Conditioning to Increase Vegetable Acceptance in Children: Explaining the Variability Across Studies.
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ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS by parents is, “How can I get my child to eat more vegetables?” Despite all their health benefits, vegetables are the least-liked food category among children,1 and this is one of the reasons why intake remains well below recommendations.2 Yet vegetables come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors, some of which are more readily accepted than others. The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study identified the most popular vegetables in toddlers’ diets as fried potatoes and starchy vegetables (eg, corn), whereas dark green vegetables are at the bottom.(3) This is no surprise, because many dark green vegetables contain compounds that are bitter tasting,4 and children have an innate dislike of bitter.(5,6) Because dark green and cruciferous vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants, carotenoids, fiber, and other essential nutrients, identifying strategies to increase children’s acceptance of these foods is an important goal for chronic disease prevention. Many of the methods we have for increasing vegetable acceptance in children might work when it comes to carrots, squash, and peas, but what about more adventurous varieties, like asparagus, kale, and brussels sprouts?