Thanks to my friend Jacob, who, with a throwaway "No mention of Disney stickers", pointed me to a press release about a fascinating study.1 Barbara J. Rolls and her graduate student Maureen Spill watched preschoolers at a daycare centre having lunch. On three days there was a first course of carrots; 30 grams, 60 grams or 90 grams per child. On a fourth day, no carrots. The children ate as much, or as little, of the carrots as they liked for 10 minutes, after which they were served pasta, broccoli, applesauce and milk, again to be eaten ad libitum, as you have to say in a scientific paper. Doubling the size of the carrot first course from 30 to 60 grams increased carrot consumption by almost 50%, although giving them 90 grams had no additional effect. Doubling the carrots also tripled the amount of broccoli they ate, which I find odd. Weren't they fuller as a result of having eaten an average of 12 grams more of carrots? No matter.
The message would seem to be simple. Give them carrots when they’re hungry, and you’ll increase their desire for other vegetables too.
“We gave the children carrots first without other competing foods,” explained Rolls. “When they are hungry at the start of the meal, it presents us with an opportunity to get them to eat more vegetables.”
“The great thing about this study is the very clear and easy message for parents and care-givers that while you are preparing dinner, put some vegetables out for your children to snack on while they’re hungry,” said Spill. “Parents also need to set an example by eating vegetables while children are young and impressionable.”
Of course another friend Arwen would probably dismiss all this pandering to children’s imagined anti-vegetable attitude as stuff and nonsense, but then that’s just the kind of mother she is.