How Picture Books Help Kids Try New Vegetables

by Kimberly Orchard January 30, 2018

We all know it can be difficult getting children to eat their vegetables. While children will happily munch away on sweets and fatty foods, the prospect of vegetables are met with a toddler-sized earthquake of resistance. The more you offer the broccoli, the more they shake their heads “no”.

So what if there was a way to get children curious about vegetables?

Researchers found that exposing children to vegetables through picture books help children eat more vegetables. The title of the study says it all: “Let's look at leeks! Picture books increase toddlers' willingness to look at, taste and consume unfamiliar vegetables”. The study was conducted in the U.K by Dr. Philippa Heath and Dr. Carmel Houston-Price. They found that toddlers were more willing to taste a new vegetable if they read a children’s book about it first. Not convinced? Here are the details.

The Experiment

A sample of 150 2-year-olds and their parents were provided with a book about a vegetable (we’ll use leeks as an example) to read for 5 minutes a day. After two weeks, the children were split into groups.

Group 1: This group of toddlers had tried leeks before. They were familiar with the vegetable in the picture book.

Group 2: This group of toddlers had never seen leeks before. They were introduced to leeks through the picture book.

Then they were invited to the lab to try some vegetables. They were asked the following question: “Here are two vegetables. Which would you like to eat?” 

The Results

The researchers found that children in Group 2, who had never tried leeks before and were introduced to them by the picture book, were more likely to try and eat more leeks. 

Recommendations Based on the Research

Anyone who is in charge of feeding a little one knows that this is good news. So here are some practical tips we can take away from this exciting finding. 

  1. Start exposing children to vegetables through picture books early. Since children were more likely to try unfamiliar vegetables after reading about them, try using children’s books as your first approach to learning about vegetables. Try to help them form a positive attitude towards the food before they put it in their mouth. 
  2. Expose children to vegetables with realistic images.  Reading picture books that use real photographs of vegetables are best when trying to get children to accept vegetables into their diet. This is because children are more likely to apply what they learn from picture books to their lives if they see pictures that accurately resemble the objects. A goofy cartoon of a talking leek may be fun, but the child may not associate the goofy leek with the real thing.
  3. Continue to be patient. Using picture books will help reduce the amount of time you need to spend encouraging children to try a new food, however it still may take patience. In this experiment, children still needed to be asked to try the leeks. Surprisingly, the child did not dive across the table to eat the slimy green thing. They still require some patient encouraging.

Consider picking up a children's book of an otherwise unpopular vegetable next time you're looking for a gift. If you get any weird looks from other parents, or questions of "do you really think she's going to want to read about arugula?", just casually whip out this study (link here). They'll appreciate it when their kid has a mouth full of arugula.

Kimberly Orchard
Kimberly Orchard


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