BOSTON – A light mist of sugar could help the broccoli (and other veggies) go down, according to new research that tested ways to make vegetables more palatable for children.
In preliminary studies, preschoolers who were served lightly sweetened vegetables (sprayed with a mist of sugar) at lunchtime ate more of the healthy foods compared to those who were served unsweetened vegetables.
Although the researchers tested other ways to mask the vegetables' bitterness, including various salts, plain sugar worked the best.
Adding such a small amount of sugar means the vegetables do not taste markedly sweet, said study researcher Valerie Duffy, a professor at the University of Connecticut's Department of Nutritional Sciences. But it's enough to balance out the bitter flavor, she said.
Genetics make some people more sensitive to the bitter flavor found in vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. For these people, masking bitterness may be an especially helpful way to increase vegetable consumption, Duffy said.
She stressed that the sweetened vegetables aren't meant to be served throughout a child's life. Rather, serving the sugar-enhanced veggies a few times should be enough to get children accustomed to eating them. Once that happens, it's no longer necessary to spritz the veggies.
Sweetened vegetables don't have many extra calories, either. The researchers added about a half a teaspoon of sugar, which has a mere 8 calories, to three-fourths of a cup of vegetables.
Duffy discussed her work this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston. The research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Another recent study found that kids prefer veggies when they are cooked for 6 to 8 minutes, versus being cooked for a longer or shorter time.
Parents should know it takes time for children to acquire a taste for new foods, so mom and dad should not be discouraged if kids initially turn their noses up at the sight of plain vegetables, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. It can sometimes take a dozen tries before kids learn to like a new food, the USDA says.
Pass it on: Lightly sweetening vegetables may help in teaching children to like them.