Mom and Dad, if you want your little ones to eat their fruit and vegetables, both of you must set an example, Finnish researchers say.
They noted that early childhood is a critical time for encouraging healthy eating habits that continue into adulthood.
Researchers surveyed 100 parents to see how they influenced their three- to five-year-olds to eat vegetables, fruit and berries. The three food groups were analysed separately.
Children followed their mother's example when it came to eating both raw and cooked vegetables, as well as fruit and berries, while a father's example was the strongest when it came to children eating cooked vegetables.
Variation can be created
"This shows that teaching children to eat their greens is not something mothers should be doing alone. A positive example set by both parents is important, as is their encouragement of the child," said study author Kaisa Kähkönen, a nutritionist from the University of Eastern Finland.
Dinner was found to be the most important meal for teaching kids to eat veggies. It offers parents a daily opportunity to serve vegetables in several forms, from main course to side dish and salad, the researchers noted.
"Variation can be created by serving raw vegetables, such as the ever-popular cucumber and tomato, accompanied by cooked ones. In fact, many root vegetables, cabbages and squashes are best served cooked," Kähkönen said in a university news release.
In terms of encouraging kids to eat fruit, evening snacks were the most important, according to study.
It also found that many families ate fewer than the recommended amounts of vegetables, fruit and berries. Cooked vegetables and berries were the least eaten food items among the families in the study.
The study was recently published online in the journal Food Quality and Preference.