Kids and veggies: the science of becoming a food adventurer

By Pamela Tyers

25 August 2020

4 minute read

boy holding a capsicum

Mr Capsicum, is that you?

We’ve just launched a program that encourages primary school kids to eat more veggies. The program, called Taste & Learn, is designed for a school setting. But parents can take heart. You can also do things at home at the same time to help your kids enjoy veggies. Imagine – there could be fewer tantrums at dinner time!

So, how do you get kids to love veggies?

Our research shows the number one way to get kids to enjoy vegetables is to repeatedly offer a variety. Throughout the Taste & Learn program, kids repeatedly try a variety of veggies. Every lesson for each of the age groups involves trying at least one vegetable, up to 24 over the whole program. One of the activities lets Foundation – year two students choose a vegetable and try it eight times at home.

Our research also shows offering kids at least three veggies to try at the dinner table helps them learn to enjoy them. And it doesn’t always have to be different vegetables. You could think about cooking them in different ways such as steaming versus baked.

Dr Janne Beelen and Maeva Broch are part of the Taste & Learn project team

Our researcher’s Dr Janne Beelen and Maeva Broch are part of the Taste & Learn project team encouraging kids to love veggies.

Becoming a food adventurer

Becoming a food adventurer is a bit like going on a roller coaster. It may be a bit scary, but you sort of want to do it. And well, if a friend’s doing it, you’re probably more likely to go along with it too.

Making veggies fun in a positive, interactive environment is really important for kids to be more willing to eat them.

The program is all about having fun tasting vegetables in class with your mates. We saw even kids who said they ‘hate vegetables’, ate them when they saw their friends eat them (thank you peer pressure!)

It’s better to emphasise the enjoyment and fun of vegetables and of being a ‘food adventurer’, rather than how healthy something is. Health messages might work for us adults, but not so much for kids. But if you want to eat more veggies too, we’ve got an app for that.

Kids and veggies for the Taste & Learn program

We don’t all have to like every vegetable… but the the Taste & Learn program helps!

Vegetables ain’t vegetables

You don’t want kids to see vegetables as one big category of food but as individual foods that are very diverse in the way they look, taste and feel. What any of us like is very individual and can change over time. So, it’s ok for us – and kids – to not like some vegetables.

Giving kids a common language helps them understand what veggies they do or don’t like. The program teaches them to describe vegetables in an objective way, such as what their texture, colour, look, touch or flavour is like.

We want to move kids from thinking, say, ‘I don’t like green veggies’ to thinking more about why they do or don’t like particular vegetables. For example, going from ‘I don’t like brussels sprouts’ to ‘I find brussels sprouts a bit too bitter but I like broccoli because it looks like little trees’.

Primary schools can download the Taste & Learn resources and start teaching. Or if you’re a parent currently homeschooling, you can also download the materials.

Taste & Learn has been developed in partnership with the CSIRO with funding by Hort Innovation, using the vegetable industry research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.