For parents of finicky eaters, meal times can often feel like a never-ending cycle of bargaining, threatening and even begging their kids to eat their fruits and vegetables. But Dutch researchers have released a study that might give some parents an advantage in the age-old battle over getting kids to eat healthier.
A report published in the behavioral nutrition research journal Appetite found kids who were served fruit in a “visually appealing” way ate twice as much as those who were served fruit in a more traditional setting. In order to make the fruit more flashy researchers cut apples, grapes and strawberries into interesting shapes, skewered them with brightly colored toothpicks and even stuck them into a watermelon. In contrast, the “regular” fruit was simply skewered and laid out on a plain white plate.
While researchers admit they can’t prove that the fruit’s more dramatic presentation lead directly to increased consumption, they feel it’s a good indicator of how a fruit’s appearance can indicate how appealing it will be to kids.
Suzanne Rostler, MS, RD, LDN, of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program, says moms and dads of picky eaters should try to replicate the study’s findings at home. “There is a general perception about fruit that is healthy and therefore not tasty or fun, but you can make it more fun for kids by jazzing it up,” she says. “You may even want to try the same approach for vegetables. Small efforts can go a long way in improving kids’ diets.”
While seeing a fussy eater wolf down plates full of visibly appealing fruit can be encouraging, Rostler reminds parents that most picky eaters won’t be “fooled” for long; what’s fun today can be perceived as boring next week. She says regularly switching up ingredients and presentation is the key to keeping kids interested in healthy snacks.
“It has always baffled me that for kids, eating the same fruit over and over again gets boring, but things like Skittles don’t. All I can say for sure is it speaks for the need to have variety in a child’s diet,” she says. “A kid that only eats apples may get bored, even if it’s prepared in a fun way. But if he has apples only once or twice a week and is also given other types of fruit in between he’s a lot less likely to get sick of apples.”
While Rostler says fruits are always good snack choices for kids, would-be flashy fruit designers who are closely monitoring their children’s sugar intake may want to keep in mind that certain fruits are higher in sugar than others.
“Tropical fruits like pineapple, mangos and bananas and things like that are all higher in sugar than berries, cherries and more temperate fruit likes apples and citrus,” she says. “I would never tell anyone not to eat a certain fruit, but it is something to consider when determining your child’s fruit menu.”
What about you? Are you the parent of a finicky eater who has used fancy presentation to “trick” your little one into eating better? If so Thrive wants to hear about it. Please send pictures, recipes and any other tips you may have on making healthy eating more appealing to children so we can share them with our readers in an upcoming Thrive post.