Engaging exposure to activities such as cooking and planting can almost double a child’s consumption of vegetables, says a study published in the current issue of the journal Nutrition & Dietetics.

If exposed to interesting things such as tasting parties, cooking classes, gardening and even Popeye cartoons kindergarteners may be more likely to eat vegetables, the study said.

Researchers at Mahidol University in Bangkok studied the fruit and vegetable consumption of 26 kindergarteners before and after they participated in a program that used multimedia, role models and play to promote healthy food consumption for a period of eight weeks.

"We got the children planting vegetable seeds, taking part in fruit and vegetable tasting parties, cooking vegetable soup, and watching Popeye cartoons. We also sent letters to parents with tips on encouraging their kids to eat fruit and vegetables, and teachers sat with children at lunch to role model healthy eating," says lead researcher Professor Chutima Sirikulchayanonta, of Mahidol University in Bangkok.

Researchers reported that the vegetable of such children consumption doubled and the types of vegetables they ate increased from two to four after the study.

In addition, children talked about vegetables more often and were proud they had eaten them in their school lunch, their parents said. The Bangkok-based researchers also noted that children felt special when adults sat next to them and ate the same foods.

Also, involving children in food preparation helps them learn the names and colors of foods and helps develop their hand-eye coordination. Studies have shown that food habits and eating patterns learned in early childhood continue into later childhood and adulthood, Sirikulchayanonta said.

Emphasizing healthy food choices at an early age can have a major impact on a person's future health, she says.