“No veggies please”, “What’s so nice about vegetable mum?” “Broccoliiii……..yewww I’m not eating these tiny trees” “Cauliflowers are very smelly mommmm.” Fed up with these tantrums? Trying to convince your kids to eat vegetables but in vain? Want to know why exactly your little ones hate veggies and what can you do about it?
Decades of research on children and nutrition showed that 80% of children do not like to eat vegetables. Researchers have found several factors contributing to this problem.
Here are reasons why kids hate vegetables backed by science:
1. Paired associative learning
According to this psychological concept, kids associate food rich in fat and calories with positive memories such as parties, treats, rewards, and celebrations. So the moment they bite a burger their brain reward system gets activated and releases more dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and excitement. Once tasted, kids want more fast food. On the other hand, they associate vegetables with unpleasant memories such as boring meals and nagging parents.
Thus, fast food boosts kids’ appetite while vegetables repel them. As they grow up and become more conscious of their looks and body image they will start associating veggies with health, fitness, and success.
2. Taste development
Children have a high preference for sweet and salty tastes, which decline with age. We all get used to different tastes later on by trying out a new food for fun or fitness concerns or by observing others. For example, most people feel uncomfortable when having black coffee or dark chocolate for the first time and tend to adapt slowly over time.
Similarly, a child requires a lot of time before developing an interest in other tastes. Children mostly avoid green cruciferous vegetables with a slightly bitter taste, that comes from calcium content, and the presence of beneficial compounds such as flavonoids, phenols, isoflavones, terpenes, and glucosinolates. Children taste this bitterness more strongly than adults.
Studies reveal that bitter taste in food is also a sign of toxicity, although not concentrated enough to make us sick. But, children are prone to toxic overload than adults and have a less-developed capacity for detoxification. That said, mothers can speed up this process by learning to cook bitter mushrooms or smelly cauliflower in a kid-friendly manner.
3. Genetic predispositions
Surprised? Well, genetic studies claim that parents who squirm on vegetables are highly likely to have kids who hate vegetables. Although you are used to eating vegetables now, you can’t expect your kids to adapt so quickly. If your child is a picky eater and that causes conflicts between you both, then there is a genetic mismatch.
Studies found that some people have a genetically-based, heightened sensitivity to bitterness. People in the same family–possess different bitterness-detection genotypes. In one study, when kids (aged 5 to 10 years) were served a series of bitter- and sweet-tasting drinks, researchers observed that the children’s preferences were related to their genotypes at the TAS2R38 locus, a region that controls an individual’s sensitivity to several similar, bitter-tasting compounds. Some studies demonstrated that kids having at least one copy of the bitter-sensitive allele reported preferences for sweeter drinks and cereals with higher sugar content. They could detect bitterness at low concentrations.
Children who hate to try new food are sufferers of food neophobia—the reluctance to eat new food. This makes children picky eaters and is genetically determined. This is more common in identical twins than fraternal twins.
4. Maternal diet during pregnancy
A mother’s food choices during her pregnancy have a great influence on an infant’s later acceptance of solid foods. The amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus contains many flavors of the maternal diet. The fetus regularly swallows amniotic fluid, and taste and smell are already functional during fetal life, so the first experiences with flavor occur prior to birth. These “transmittable” flavors influence the acceptance of these flavors by the infant after birth.
In one study, pregnant women who consumed carrot juice for three consecutive weeks had kids who exhibited fewer negative facial expressions when first introduced to carrot-flavored cereal as compared to plain cereal. In short, familiarity plays a key role in the acquisition of food and flavor preferences.