A research team led by Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, published a review in the Obesity Reviews journal. The analysis used data from over 40 peer-reviewed studies showing that Children's continuous exposure to healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables, could motivate them to eat and like those foods even after initially rejecting them.

When/how can caregivers start applying this information?

According to the evidence presented in the review, this method can start being effective as early as pregnancy.

During pregnancy, the fetus is exposed to the flavors of the food that the mother eats. If the mother eats Healthy Food, the fetus can get used to those flavors, making it more likely that it will eat and enjoy healthy food in childhood. This can also occur during infancy when a mother breastfeeds her child, and the child is exposed to those flavors through breastmilk.

Does this work when children are older?

According to Anzman-Frasca, this type of consistent exposure also works children are older and tend to be more vocal when expressing their dislike for particular foods. "There are many studies with preschoolers who start out not liking red peppers or squash, for example, but after five to six sessions where these foods are repeatedly offered, they end up liking them," she says.The authors of the review also note that younger children tend to be more open to trying new foods and that caregivers should take advantage of that time to instill in them the ability to make varied, healthy food choices.

Does this work for all families?

Although the review found this application of repeated serving methods to be backed up by a sturdy body of evidence, it also points out that these methods may not work for low-income families. This is because those families may be reluctant to reintroduce foods that their children have previously rejected, fearing that those foods could go to waste.

To mitigate this issue, the authors of the review suggest that low-income families should be supported with interventions that allow their children to benefit from consistent exposure to different types of healthy food, while also addressing the potential challenges these methods could pose for them.

What else can caregivers do to get children to eat healthily?

The review recommends that caregivers also use strategies that can be applied to children's wider environments, such as restaurants. For example, they can make the selection of healthy beverages and sides to children's meals the norm.

The review also shows that modeling healthy eating behaviors in caregivers and older siblings could help, as well as reward-based strategies. However, it also emphasizes that the latter type of strategies are better reserved for situations where children need to be motivated to try new foods, as they may undermine repeated feeding methods.