A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that pairing veggies with a sauce or dip may increase children’s consumption of veggies.
For the study, parents of 29 children (ages 3–5) filled out a survey about the kids’ opinions of 11 vegetables, including whether they liked or disliked the vegetable, or had never tried it. Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts were among the vegetables most children had not tried, and were selected as the ones used to gauge children’s preferences in the study. The children were given either cauliflower or Brussels sprouts once per day for seven days, and ate in a group of five or six children that was led by a researcher or teacher. The vegetables were all boiled, and then were either served plain, with unsweetened cream cheese, or with sweetened cream cheese. After this conditioning period, the kids were given the vegetables plain.
The researchers found that children given Brussels sprouts with cream cheese during conditioning liked them significantly more than those given plain sprouts. Less than one in five kids given plain sprouts said they liked the vegetable, whereas about two-thirds of kids who got sprouts with either type of cream cheese said they liked the vegetables. The children liked the cauliflower more overall, and about equally whether or not it was served with cream cheese.
After the conditioning period, when children were given the plain vegetables, those who had previously said they liked Brussels sprouts ate more of them than kids who had expressed dislike.
The strategy of pairing something new with something a person already likes is known as associative conditioning. The researchers concluded that “these results are promising for parents, teachers, and educators who wish to include more fruits and vegetables in their children’s diet by using the associative conditioning procedures in these studies.”