As the rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. rise, nutrition and public health experts continue to advocate that children increase their fruit and vegetable consumption in place of those calorie-dense junk foods. Garden programs, as well as other programs targeted at kids, often have this same goal, but the hardest step may be getting over that first hump: getting a child to just at least TRY a taste of the new food.
Indeed, researchers have shown that children are more likely to eat a food if they are repeatedly exposed to it through repeated taste tests. So, while we grow lots of spinach and kale and carrots in the garden, how do we get kids to try that first bite?
One way we can do this is by modeling the behavior. Social Learning Theory, a theory frequently adopted in school interventions that promote fruit and veggie consumption, is based on the idea that we learn behaviors by watching how others act in situations. (A great read on this theory in this book.) So, for instance, if I see someone eating a bowl of brussel sprouts on a few occasions, I will absorb this information and imagine myself eating brussel sprouts. What’s more, if I see someone eating brussel sprouts AND enjoying eating those sprouts, I am more inclined to imagine and believe that I too will enjoy eating brussel sprouts, if I’m ever in a similar situation where I’m offered that food.
So, how can we effectively model eating vegetables? I found an excellent example on Youtube! In Eric Herman‘s music video, he shows that even those who are hesitant to eat vegetables might learn to love them once they try them. The video starts with Eric skeptically taking a bite out of a carrot, surprised to find he enjoys it. He repeats this with a green bean “cause my mother said I should [eat green beans],” and then a beet, showing that not only will someone like carrots once they try the food, but that trying carrots may lead to trying other vegetables which that person will also turn out to like.
The more Eric tries of different vegetables, the more “crazy over vegetables” he becomes, and this extreme appetite for vegetables is portrayed as adventuresome, goofy, and absolutely fun. At the same time, the character is portrayed as a cool dude himself after eating his vegetables – rocking out on his guitar while coasting in a grocery cart – which suggests others might also become super-hip as a result of trying vegetables.
Does the music video actually work?? The real test would be to check in with the young children who watch this video and see if it results in any changes in behavior. In comparison to many of the corny (yes, pun intended) videos out there that encourage kids to eat fruits and vegetables, this rock video is much more modern. I want to be like Eric after watching this video because he is so entertaining. So, if Social Learning Theory really works, I think this is the kind of video that would actually catch kids’ attention and deliver an effective message. Anyone have vegetable-phobic kids at home who could test the video?