Parents open to veggies for kids’ breakfast, study finds

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In a recent study published in the journal Dr the hunger, researchers explored parents’ opinions about giving their children breakfast vegetables. Their findings indicate that parents are willing to try the practice but also have some concerns.

Study: Study: “A good way to start the day”: UK-based parents’ views on giving children vegetables for breakfast. Image credit: Sweet Marshmallow / Shutterstock

Background

Nutritionists and researchers report suboptimal vegetable intake by children, particularly in more ‘westernized’ and industrialized countries, which may be insufficient for growth and health. A low-vegetable diet can lead to a variety of non-communicable conditions, making a plant-based diet an important protective factor against disease risk.

Parents and guardians are well placed to change their children’s eating habits and should be provided with evidence-based guidance and resources through national healthcare systems. In the UK, guidelines limit the amount of vegetables to be eaten at breakfast and at midday and evening meals.

Conversely, foods eaten for breakfast, such as sugar preserves, sweet spreads, cereals and white bread, are high in sugar and less nutritious than vegetables. Although eaten with breakfast all over the world, including other European countries, vegetables are not seen as a ‘breakfast food’ in the region due to marketing, family behavior and cultural traditions.

Repeated exposure to vegetables at breakfast can change children’s perceptions. However, parents’ views on this matter should be explored before such an intervention.

About the study

The researchers implemented a qualitative design with interpretivist and constructivist approaches, which allowed them to analyze meaning from the interviews and develop an interpretation of the respondents’ experiences.

This approach recognizes that many social factors shape attitudes and experiences so that there is a single ‘truth’ or reality. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect qualitative data, while demographic data was collected through an online survey.

Participants were parents of children between the ages of 18 months and four years. Snowball and sample sampling were used to identify respondents, and sample size was estimated using theoretical frameworks for qualitative research.

Semi-structured interviews asked parents to share their experiences and opinions about giving their children vegetables for breakfast and their children’s responses. Interviews were recorded and transcribed before thematic analysis was conducted. The importance of reflexivity, where researchers are encouraged to be aware of their position in relation to research, was appreciated.

Findings

Of the 18 participating parents, 17 were female and one was female On average, they were 35 years old, and the average age of their children was 34 months. The three themes that emerged from the thematic analysis were ‘desires’, ‘barriers’ and ‘facilitators.’

Most parents expressed a willingness to give their children vegetables for breakfast, and some said they would try to do so after participating in the research study. One said it sounded like ‘a good way to start the day’, while others pointed out that vegetables are a healthy option as they contain vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.

They point out that giving children vegetables for breakfast will supplement and not replace what they eat for the rest of the day. Some also mention the need to feed children vegetables with sugar. Breakfast vegetables may make children more familiar with them and, therefore, consume more vegetables at other meals.

“I think making them a part of every meal takes away some of the fear from kids who are less sure about them.”

Parents cited social and family norms, dislike of vegetables, and practical challenges as barriers to increasing breakfast vegetable consumption. Vegetables were not usually associated with breakfast, which was not seen as an ideal behavior.

Parents called such foods ‘weird’ and ‘un-British’ and pointed out that nutritional guidelines did not mention them. However, some mentioned vegetables that they had previously eaten were included in the breakfast meal, such as the mushroom omelette.

Providing vegetables for breakfast also presents practical challenges, including the effort and additional costs required to change established routines. Children may also be more likely to waste food if there are vegetables they don’t like.

Encouragingly, parents cite some factors that may help to incorporate vegetables into the morning meal. Because children are less influenced by social norms, they do not associate vegetables with a specific time of day. The novelty factor can make them more interested in trying something new.

Parents talked about practical solutions to help them include vegetables in their morning meals, including preparing them in advance, asking for help from another caregiver, and choosing a more flexible day to start exercising.

They are also happy to have child care services with vegetables at breakfast, which may normalize this dietary change. Parents noted the importance of disseminating information to raise awareness among other parents and caregivers.

Conclusion

Although parents generally had positive perceptions and a high level of willingness to provide vegetables for breakfast to their children, this practice would need to change to comply with social norms. Future studies could explore the costs of making these dietary changes and focus on respondents from different ethnic backgrounds.

However, if these challenges can be overcome through awareness campaigns and engagement with childcare services, children and their parents can enjoy the benefits of a healthy breakfast – and a lot less sugar.



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