It seems that parents are always trying to find new and improved ways to get their kids to eat their vegetables. Hide them in ranch dressing, make silly faces out of them, puree them and add them to sauces. But a new study has found that the whole dog-and-pony show of getting kids to eat healthy foods could be avoided if parents abided by two rules for kids and vegetables: offer them often and offer them early.

The study, conducted by a research team at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom found that even the fussiest eaters can be encouraged to eat more vegetables if they are offered them often enough. To test their theory, the researchers turned to one of the most dreaded of all vegetables, the artichoke. And worse yet, they pureed it. They chose artichokes not only because they are one of the most hated of all vegetables, but they are also one that parents are least likely to cook. So before the study, many of the kids had never even had an artichoke, yet many also claimed to dislike them.

The research team gave artichoke puree to 332 children between the ages of 4 and 38 months from the United Kingdom, France and Denmark. Each child was given between five and 10 servings of at least 100 grams of artichoke puree. The puree was either served straight or sweetened with added sugar.

By the end of the study period, researchers found that at least 40 percent of the kids who claimed they did not like artichoke previously had now 'learned' to like it. And there was little difference in the amount eaten over time between those who were fed the plain artichoke and those who were given the sweetened variety, suggesting that masking the flavor of the vegetable didn't increase the chances that the kids would like it.

They also found that the younger the children in the study were more likely to eat the artichoke than the older kids.

Professor Marion Hetherington, a lead author of the study from the Institute of Psychological Sciences at Leeds suggests that parents offer kids veggies as often and as early as possible to increase the likelihood that kids will eat them. "Even if your child is fussy or does not like veggies, our study shows that five to 10 exposures will do the trick," she noted.

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Want kids to eat their veggies? Offer them early and often
Researchers find that toddlers will learn to like something like pureed artichoke if it is offered between 5 and 10 times.