Every parent has a different strategy for trying to get his or her kid to eat more vegetables, from growing vegetables together as a family to banning treats until the dinner plate is clean. New research suggests that teaching young children an overarching, conceptual framework for nutrition may do the trick.
The new findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show that a conceptual framework encourages children to understand why eating a variety of foods is ideal and also causes them to eat more vegetables by choice.
Psychological scientists Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman of Stanford University hypothesized that preschoolers would be capable of understanding a more conceptual approach to nutrition, despite their young age.
"Children have natural curiosity they want to understand why and how things work," the researchers explain. "Of course we need to simplify materials for young children, but oversimplification robs children of the opportunity to learn and advance their thinking."
Gripshover and Markman developed five storybooks aimed at revising and elaborating on what children already know about different nutrition-related themes, including dietary variety, digestion, food categories, microscopic nutrients, and nutrients as fuel for biological functions.
The researchers assigned some preschool classrooms to read nutrition books during snack time for about 3 months, while other classrooms were assigned to conduct snack time as usual. Later, the preschoolers were asked questions about nutrition.
The children who had been read the nutrition books were more likely to understand that food had nutrients, and that different kinds of nutrients were important for various bodily functions (even functions that weren't mentioned in the books). They were also more knowledgeable about digestive processes, understanding, for example, that the stomach
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Association for Psychological Science