Most parents know the frustration of trying to get their children to eat a healthy diet. If your little one isn't keen on fruit and vegetables, here are some surprising tricks and tips to help.
Make it colourful
They say we take the first bite with our eyes, and it's no different for kids. Visual appeal of food influences whether or not they want to eat it - something the junk food manufactures know very well. But did you know that kids prefer different food arrangements and colour combinations to grown ups?
Researchers from the University of Cornell found that children prefer plates that contain six colours (interestingly, M&Ms contain six different colours), while adults are attracted to just three. As well as liking a variety of colours, the study found that children are attracted to plates that contain a wide variety of foods, with seven being the most appealing. Adults, on the other hand, prefer to have just three different foods on a plate.
Children also find food placed in a figurative design appealing. So if you want to encourage your picky eater to tuck into a healthy dinner, try serving that broccoli and salmon with separate mounds of sweetcorn, peas, mashed potato and dollop of tomato sauce. The theory is that children will be more likely to try everything on their plate if it's served up with a variety of tastes and colours.
Play with their food
We might tell our children not to play with their food, but getting creative when you dish up could encourage kids to tuck in. For example, you could place some bacon in the shape of a smile along the lower part of a plate or arrange some peas in a heart shape.
When it comes to the best shapes, go for circles and curves. Researchers at Changshu Institute of Technology in China asked volunteers to sip plain water while looking at various shapes - and found that those who looked at circles reported that it tasted sweet, unlike those who looked at other shapes. They concluded that curved shapes induce greater "cognitive ease" whereas the sharp angles of a triangle or square are evolutionarily associated with discomfort and may hide lurking danger - or a green bean.
Tricking the brain
Our visual perception is so important to our experience of taste that it's possible to trick the brain into tasting something different – just by changing what it sees. Researchers at Oxford University were able to trick people into confusing cheese and onion and salt and vinegar flavour crisps simply by switching packets.
They concluded that subjects taste the colour of the crisp packet, not the crisp itself. Our brains are skilled at recognising associations and using them as shortcuts. The packet colour makes us expect something to taste a certain way – so our brain will make it taste that way, unless the flavour is shockingly different to the one we're expecting.
Some parents use a similar technique by hiding vegetables in a familiar food stuff. For example, you might include carrots and peppers in curry or pasta sauce, and blitz them with a food mixer so the sauce looks the same as usual.
Have you found a way to get your kids to eat their greens? Leave a comment below...