How to Get Kids to Eat Fruits and Veggies

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Researchers have discovered a new strategy for healthy eating: exploiting cartoon characters.

In the war on healthy eating, the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs thinks parents should “fight fire with fire.” Or, well, Elmo stickers.

Reuters Health reported on new research the center conducted that found kids were more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they were branded with popular cartoon characters – like the sugary snacks are. It can be done with something as simple and cheap as Elmo, Dora the Explorer, or SpongeBob stickers, they say. Here’s how the research went…

For the new study, [David] Just and his colleagues did the apple and cookie experiment with 208 eight- to 11-year-olds at suburban and rural schools every day at lunch for a week. Kids were allowed to choose an apple, a cookie or both snacks along with their normal meal.

Some of those days, the snacks were offered without cartoon stickers or other branding. On other days, either the cookie or the apple was branded with a familiar kids’ character.

When the snacks weren’t specially marked, 91 percent of kids took a cookie and just under one-quarter took an apple.

Putting an Elmo sticker on the apples led 37 percent of kids to take fruit, the researchers reported this week in a letter to the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Stickers on cookies didn’t affect kids’ choice of the sweet snack – probably because the youngsters already knew they tasted good, according to Just.

You can buy hundreds of stickers for favorites like Dora the Explorer for under $5 online. Dollar stores probably have smaller quantities for cheaper if you want to try it. But just using positive language might also help, according to researcher David Just: “Use fun names to encourage little kids especially to see fruits and vegetables as cool, such as ‘X-ray vision carrots’ and ‘power peas.’”

Stacy Johnson

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