Developmental and Environmental Influences on Young Children's Vegetable Preferences and Consumption

Adv Nutr. 2016 Jan 15;7(1):220S-231S. doi: 10.3945/an.115.008706. Print 2016 Jan.


Food intake patterns begin to be shaped at the earliest points in life. Early exposures and experiences are critical for the acceptance of some foods, particularly healthful foods such as vegetables, which often have a bitter component in their flavor profiles. In addition to repeated exposure to these foods, the quality and emotional tone of parent-child interactions are important in facilitating children's acceptance of vegetables. During early childhood, parents are challenged by children's developmental characteristics related to eating, such as the emergence of child neophobia, and by individual characteristics of the child that are more biologically based, including genetic predispositions to bitter taste and sensory sensitivities. Experimental studies consistently show that repeated exposure to novel and rejected familiar foods is the most powerful method to improve acceptance. However, the manner and persistence with which these exposures are performed are critical. Research investigating influences on children's vegetable acceptance and ingestion has focused on associations among availability, parent intakes, child neophobia, and the parental feeding response to children's reluctance to try and consume vegetables. Because young children's dietary intakes are low and below dietary recommendations, investigations have focused more on factors that impede children's vegetable acceptance, such as controlling feeding practices, than on positive influences. Research that addresses the multifaceted nature of these interactions among different levels of social-ecological environment, individual traits, parental feeding styles and practices, and socioeconomic influences and that uses longitudinal designs and complex statistical approaches is called for to ascertain more effective methods to improve children's vegetable acceptance.

Keywords: child; feeding behavior; food acceptance; growth and development; neophobia; obesity; parenting; vegetables.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Development*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet* / standards
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Taste*
  • Vegetables*