Children between four and eight years old structurally don't eat enough vegetables—and that's a serious problem. To address this, the vegetable producer HAK has ordered the development of an ‘intelligent vegetable plate’, intended to subtly persuade children to adopt healthier eating behaviors. The smart plate, which is developed based on scientific insights, will soon go into production in the Netherlands.
For many parents, it's a daily challenge, and sometimes even a battle, to ensure their children eat a sufficient amount and variety of vegetables. While the guidelines prescribe 100 to 150 grams a day, children in the age category between four and eight years old in practice eat an average of a mere 73 grams of vegetables a day. Furthermore, 40% of children eat vegetables fewer than five days a week.
Based on scientific insights (from Wageningen University & Research, among others), HAK has ordered the development of a dinner plate that subtly influences the eating behavior of children. Using a clever design mix of shape, size, volume, material, color, layout and positioning of the vegetables in relation to the other meal components, this ‘intelligent vegetable plate’ naturally motivates children to eat more vegetables.
Catch them young
The initiative to develop the intelligent vegetable plate is an integral part of HAK's mission to help people eat more vegetables, explains Nicole Freid, Director of Innovation and Marketing at HAK. 'It turns out it is quite difficult for parents to estimate the right portion size of vegetables for their children's daily plates. That's not surprising, because even adults tend not to eat enough vegetables, even when they think they get plenty', Freid says. 'That's why we started to consider how we can help children eat more vegetables. Rather than telling people what to do, we decided to take another route. We wanted to address the problem of insufficient vegetable consumption as close as possible to the children's mealtime: at the dining table and with minimal fuss. And that's what led us to the development of this plate, in collaboration with a range of experts.'
The low vegetable consumption in our country is still a deep-rooted problem, which often first emerges at a young age. However, a more plant-based diet with more vegetables is essential for our health. When it comes to vegetable consumption, the Netherlands sits at the bottom of the European rankings—despite long-running government information campaigns. Mirjam van Delft, a nutrition specialist, pediatrician and member of the project team, explains: 'the habit of not eating enough vegetables often stems from a very early age. The transition from mashed foods to eating 'grown-up food' can be a stumbling block.
Especially vegetables can be neglected, or eaten only in limited amounts. And this habit often persists as the child grows older. The sooner a child—consciously or not—learns to eat vegetables, the easier it will be later in life. The proverb "Catch them young" applies here, too.'
Eating enough vegetables is important because they are a source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. In the short term, this has a positive effect on digestion and satiation, while in the long term, vegetable consumption lowers the risk of chronic illness. 'For that reason, it is important for parents to keep offering different vegetables in a variety of preparations,' Van Delft suggests.
Freid: 'The Green Normal, the manifesto we published in June, also offers a plea for eating vegetables every day. We can only achieve this by cooperating with other stakeholders and our approach can't be too didactic. All our product solutions and appealing publicity campaigns aside, we also want to offer a practical helping hand to children and parents with this intelligent plate. After all: every little bit helps.'