IF in doubt, conduct a study ...

New research has found that toddlers eat more vegetables if they are rewarded for trying them.

The study – surely up there in the Stating The Bleeding Obvious hall of fame – was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht.

It found that giving children stickers or small toy crowns (a little royalist, perhaps, but whatever it takes, I suppose) may help them develop a taste for healthy food.

Experts carried out the three-month research programme on children aged one to four at nurseries in the Netherlands.

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Researcher Britt van Belkom, from Maastricht University Campus Venlo, said: “It’s important to start eating vegetables from a young age.”

Every so often, when I’m rummaging in The Big Drawer Of Tupperware Chaos, out pops a little square tub and I’m transported back in time to bygone days of nappies and little sleep.

We were determined our baby son was only going to have homemade food. Apart from some organic porridge, not a morsel of shop-bought baby food passed his delicate little lips.

I would spend hours chopping veg and the finest cuts of meat for stews and casseroles, freezing them in batches in a platoon of tiny tubs.

Indeed, he grew into a strapping lad and a picture of health.

You do question your efforts, however, when they hit 18 and appear home at midnight smelling of beer and clutching a kebab.

Oh well. You can only try your best.

Overall, 598 children took part in the Vegetable Box programme. They were split into three groups, with the first given vegetables to try and then a reward, the second given vegetables and no reward, and a control group which was not exposed to vegetables or rewarded.

The first two groups were given the chance to try a range of vegetables every day at nursery for three months.

Those in the reward group were given fun, non-food rewards when they tried some vegetables. Knowledge of vegetables and willingness to taste them was measured at the start and end of the study. The knowledge was measured by showing the children 14 different vegetables and asking them how many they could name.

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Consumption was measured by giving the kids the chance to taste bite-size pieces of six vegetables and counting how many they were willing to taste. The results showed that, before the study, those in the control group could identify around eight vegetables but after the test this increased to around 10. Those given rewards, and those who were not, also identified more vegetables – rising from around nine vegetables to 11. Willingness to try vegetables only increased significantly in those given a reward.

Van Belkom said: “Regularly offering vegetables to toddlers at day care centres significantly increases their ability to recognise various vegetables. But rewarding toddlers for tasting vegetables appears to also increase their willingness to try different vegetables.”

The study also confirmed what parents the world over have already ascertained … bribery always pays.