In a recent study published in the journal Appetite, researchers explored the views of parents regarding giving their children vegetables for breakfast. Their findings indicate that parents are willing to attempt the practice but also have some concerns.
Study: “A good way to start the day”: UK-based parents’ views about offering vegetables to children for breakfast. Image Credit: sweet marshmallow / Shutterstock
Nutritionists and researchers have reported suboptimal vegetable consumption by children, particularly in more ‘Westernized’ and industrialized countries, which may be inadequate for growth and health. Low-vegetable diets can lead to various non-communicable conditions, making vegetable consumption an important protective factor against disease risk.
Parents and guardians are well-positioned to modify their children’s diets, and they should be provided with evidence-based guidelines and resources through the national healthcare system. In the UK, guidance limits vegetable consumption opportunities to snack times and 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. Vegetables are not seen in this region as ‘breakfast food’ due to marketing, family behaviors, and cultural traditions, even though they are eaten with the morning meal around the world, including in other European countries.
Children may change their perceptions if repeatedly exposed to vegetables at breakfast time. However, parents’ perceptions on this issue should be explored before such an intervention.
About the study
Researchers implemented a qualitative design with interpretivist and constructionist perspectives, which allowed them to parse meaning from the interviews and construct an interpretation of the respondents’ experiences.
This approach acknowledges that many social factors shape perspectives and experiences so that there is a single ‘truth’ or reality. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect qualitative data, while demographic information was collected through an online survey.
Participants were parents of children between 18 months and four years old. Snowball and convenience sampling were used to identify respondents, and the sample size was assessed using theoretical frameworks for qualitative research.
The semi-structured interviews asked parents to provide their experiences and views on 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 positionality in relation to the study, was acknowledged.
Of the 18 participating parents, 17 were female, and one was female. On average, they were 35 years old, and their children had a mean age of 34 months. The three themes that emerged from the thematic analysis were ‘willingness’, ‘barriers’, and ‘facilitators.’
Most parents expressed willingness to offer their children vegetables for breakfast, and some said that they would attempt to do so after participating in the research study. One said that it sounded like a ‘good way to start the day,’ with others noting that vegetables are a healthier option because of their levels of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
They noted that giving children vegetables for breakfast would supplement intake through the rest of the day and not replace it. Some also mentioned the need to feed the child vegetables along with carbohydrates. Vegetables at breakfast could make children more familiar with them and, therefore, more accepting of vegetables in other meals.
“I think making them a part of every meal takes perhaps some of the fear factor away from children that are less sure about them.”
Speaking of the barriers to increasing vegetable consumption at breakfast, parents spoke of societal and family norms, disliked vegetables, and practical challenges. Vegetables were not commonly associated with breakfast, which was not seen as a normative behavior.
Parents called such meals ‘weird’ and ‘un-British’ and noted that nutrition guidelines did not mention them. However, some mentioned vegetables that they had previously eaten incorporated into breakfast dishes, such as mushroom omelets.
Offering vegetables for breakfast also presents practical challenges, including the effort needed to change established routines and the additional cost. Children may also be more likely to waste food if it includes a vegetable they do not like.
Hearteningly, parents mentioned some factors that may facilitate integrating vegetables into morning meals. Since children are less affected by social norms, they do not associate vegetables with a particular time of day. The novelty factor could also make them more interested in trying something new.
Parents spoke to practical solutions to help them incorporate vegetables into morning meals, including preparing them in advance, asking for help from another caregiver, and choosing more flexible days to start the practice.
They were also happy to have childcare services, including vegetables in morning meals, which could normalize this dietary change. Parents noted the importance of information campaigns to increase awareness among other parents and caregivers.
While parents generally had positive perceptions and high levels of willingness to offer their children vegetables for breakfast, this practice would require a change to prevailing social norms. Future studies can explore the cost of making these dietary changes and focus on respondents from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
However, if these challenges can be overcome through awareness campaigns and the involvement of childcare services, children and their parents can enjoy the benefits of a healthier morning meal – and far less sugar.
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