Should parents secretly tuck healthy ingredients – such as fruits and vegetables – into their children’s favorite foods to boost their nutrition?
A provocative new study suggests the answer is yes.
Columbia University researchers, reporting in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, found children often can’t taste the difference when foods have been fortified with healthy ingredients, but informing them of their presence makes kids less likely to eat them.
Investigators from Columbia University asked 68 elementary and middle school children and to choose between two food options – those labeled as containing vegetables and those without. For example, the kids were allowed to choose “chickpea chocolate chip cookies” or “chocolate chip cookies.” Other examples: “broccoli gingerbread spice cake” and “zucchini chocolate chip bread.”
Researchers found children were far less likely to choose those foods labeled as vegetable-enhanced. They were also more likely to prefer the taste of the foods labeled vegetable-free. What the children didn't know: Both food samples contained the nutritious vegetables; they were just labeled differently.
Researchers took no position on whether parents should sneak vegetables into their children’s meals. But they noted several popular cookbooks provide ways to do so and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports only 21 percent of American children eat the recommended five or more fruits and vegetables per day.
"Food products labeled with health claims may be perceived as tasting different than those without health claims, even though they are not objectively different,” said Dr. Randi Wolf, a co-investigator. “This study is important in that it may contribute knowledge of the potential effectiveness of a novel way to promote vegetable consumption in children."