HEALTH SPOTLIGHT: The Plate on Which Your Preschooler’s Food is Served Can Affect How Much Vegetables They Eat

By  //  September 4, 2018

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dishes with pictures of fruits and veggies may enhance pre-schooler consumption

A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that the use of plates with fruit and vegetable pictures helps to change eating behavior and enhance the consumption of fruits and vegetables among preschool children between 3 and 5 years of age.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Space Coast Daily is delighted to welcome Dr. Christopher Johnson as a guest contributor on issues of child health and well-being. With 35 years of experience practicing pediatrics, pediatric critical care (intensive care), and pediatric emergency room care he is committed to educating parents on how best to meet the needs of the ill and injured child in today’s often confusing and complex healthcare system.

 In this article, Dr. Johnson reports on a new study which explores an intervention in the dietary behavior of children in early childhood that may enhance their consumption of healthy fruits and vegetable. This study tests the association between the use of plates with fruit and vegetable pictures and consumption of fruits and vegetables among preschool children between 3 and 5 years of age.

Because dietary behavior and preferences during this age period have been shown to be associated with life-long dietary practices, any incentive that drives healthy nutrition may be worth a try.

— Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-in-Chief

I’m not quite sure what to make of a fascinating article posted online to JAMA Pediatrics last month, but the author’s recommendations seem worth a try for parents struggling with the perennial problem of getting their kids to eat more vegetables.

The authors took the approach of seeing if altering how foods are presented to the child might alter their eating habits. Every parent of a toddler can see the potential in this.

How many times have you held up a spoonful of peas and, to coax an obstreperous toddler to take it, pretended it was an airplane or something exciting? This study was in children older than toddlers, old enough to eat off their own plates, but the concept is the same.

The authors studied 235 children in a preschool environment ranging in age from 3 to 5 years. They used what’s called a crossover design. This has a baseline observation period followed by an intervention period.

Because dietary behavior and preferences during this age period have been shown to be associated with life-long dietary practices, any incentive that drives healthy nutrition is worth a try.

The baseline condition was an unmarked, white plate for lunch. The intervention consisted of a plate divided into compartments with pictures of fruits and vegetables in the compartments.

The children first had explained to them what the pictures were, and their understanding was verified. In this preschool, the children serve themselves onto their plates from common bowls of food.

The authors found that the plates with compartments and the pictures led to increased consumption (as in actual eating, not just putting the stuff on the plate) of vegetables.

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Interestingly, although the children also ate more fruit, the investigators did not find a statistically significant increase in consumption of fruits.

However, they had a good explanation for this– the children already took more fruits than vegetables, which makes total sense if you have children, so an increase above baseline was tougher to measure.

Anyway, I found this power of reminding and suggestion to be fascinating. You might consider trying it yourself.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christopher Johnson, MD

Dr. Christopher Johnson received his undergraduate education in history and religion at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1974. He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1978 from Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota, then trained in general pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, followed by training in pediatric infectious diseases, hematology research, and pediatric critical care medicine at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine. Dr. Johnson is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in general pediatrics and in pediatric critical care medicine and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Johnson, who has been named to a list of  The 50 Best Mayo Clinic Doctors — Ever,” devotes his time to practicing pediatric critical care as President of Pediatric Intensive Care Associates, P.C., as Medical Director of the PICU for CentraCare Health Systems, and to writing about medicine for general readers. His popular website/blog and four books provide a wealth of information and answers to practical questions related to child health issues.

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