Children eat too few vegetables, research shows. Entrepreneur Phaedra Mensen and her company Spoony developed a game box with which children learn to eat more vegetables in a playful way. This also helps children who have difficulty eating, unhealthy food or other eating problems.
One in eight children in the Netherlands is overweight or obese, 85 percent of primary school children eat too little vegetables, according to studies by Statistics Netherlands and RIVM. Shocking, Phaedra thinks Humans. In addition to being an entrepreneur and initiator of Spoony, she is also the mother of three children. ,,I have always kept the basics at home healthy. In addition, it was fine if they ate an ice cream, candy or piece of apple pie once in a while,” she says.
Sweet and fat are easier to sell, have a longer shelf life and are cheaper to produce
“I noticed that the first four years rest with you as a parent. You can decide what goes in the mouths. But from the age of four, the world becomes so much bigger: children go to school, to friends, to sports canteens. I was shocked by the enormous amount of unhealthy temptations and noticed that my children were also very sensitive to them.”
In particular, crisps, biscuits and unhealthy products are accompanied by colorful packaging, figures and savings campaigns, according to Mensen. “While a zucchini is still a zucchini, a bell pepper is still a bell pepper. The reason is of course that sweet and fat are easier to sell, have a longer shelf life and are cheaper to produce. You have an advantage throughout the chain if you bring that to the market.”
Ten times offer
Yet there is hope: scientific research shows that taste buds can be trained. If children taste something ten times, they will like it.
“I found that interesting. If you can train something, it means you can teach children something.” She developed a game box with recipes for primary school children, where vegetables are eaten in a playful way. For example by means of a goose board or bingo card. “The aim is to achieve that ten times. With games familiar to children, eating vegetables becomes a positive moment.”
When there is a lot of focus on eating vegetables, children’s heels go in the sand
Pediatrician Ilse Westerbeek, who helped develop the box, agrees: ,,If there is a lot of focus on eating vegetables, children will have their heels in the sand. Distraction works very well and if you do it in a fun way, it helps.”
It is often not unwillingness, emphasizes the doctor. “The button has simply not been found yet. You have to get to know and appreciate different flavors.” Adults also do the same with new food: first smell, taste, eat a small piece. You can’t expect to put something in your mouth all at once, she says. “If eating vegetables is a positive experience, you can also stop the games.”
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Pediatric dietitian Leonie van der Kruk worked a lot with the target group. “Often parents visit me who have already tried a lot. There are negative experiences around eating, it is difficult for parents to stay relaxed and happy at the table and there is a lot of anger and frustration involved. It’s nice if you can break that.”
In the meantime, she advises parents to see the ‘small steps’ too. Until the first year of life, children like almost everything. After that, the critical phase starts, in which they also have to learn to rediscover products that they used to eat. They do this by looking, smelling, hearing, feeling and tasting. Gripping and smelling the food is therefore already an exercise.”
People is now continuing to develop the game box, so that it will be accessible to everyone and adapted to different target groups.
How many fruits and vegetables should a child eat?
Everyone knows that you have to eat fruit and vegetables to stay healthy. Nutrition coach Susanne Verzuu explains Parents of Nu Find out why your child needs fruits and vegetables and how much they should eat.
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