Penn State University researchers found that children were far more likely to eat vegetables if they were also offered a spice-flavored dip than if they were offered vegetables alone.
In fact, having the dip swayed children who previously had rejected the same vegetable, according to a news release.
Jennifer Savage, an associate director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research, and colleagues found that children were three times more likely to refuse eating vegetables alone then if the same veggie was paired with a reduced-fat flavored dip.
The same children were twice as likely to reject a vegetable without a dip than it it were served with plain dip.
The researchers, which published their work in a recent issues of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, used 34 children between the ages of 3 and 5.
The children were first offered a plain vegetable to gauge their acceptance.
Then they were offered the same vegetable but with dip, and their responses recorded.
The more times children are offered a distasteful vegetable, the more likely they are to consume it.
"Repeated exposure is a way to get kids to like new foods," Savage said in the news release. "This has been demonstrated in previous studies. But first you have to get them to taste the vegetable. Plus, the servings do not need to be huge—the key may be to start by offering really small portions."
In as few as four tastings, the preschoolers consumed ore of the disliked vegetable when it was paired with a flavored dip than when served alone.
The findings may be critical since less than 10 percent of 4- to 8-year-olds consume the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended daily servings of vegetables, according to the release.
In fact, about one-third of all children eat no vegetables in a typical day.
The study involved carrots, cucumbers, celery, green beans, red peppers and yellow squash.