Dinner can turn into a battleground when you ask your child to finish their veggies. Parents everywhere struggle to convince their children to eat more greens, but many are not sure how to get it to work. Now, a new study has found that more than half of all parents (55 percent) also want their kids to enjoy plant-based protein like tofu, seitan, legumes, or any form, starting at a young age, according to research released by baby food brand Gerber.

The survey polled 2,000 new parents to determine their biggest struggles with their children’s picky eating habits, and how they hoped to introduce healthier food to their kids. The poll found that more than half had children with picky eating habits resistant to trying new foods, and an even larger 83 percent of the parents worry about providing enough nutrients to their kids. The survey also found that two out of three parents hope that their kids explore different foods including plant-based proteins.

“We hear from parents that they want more plant-based options that align with their food values,” Gerber President and CEO Tarun Malkani said in a statement. “That’s why we want to reassure parents there are more nutritious, developmentally appropriate options available so they can feed their little ones a diverse diet.”

Parents' primary struggles come from a lack of information. The survey reported that 55 percent of parents have trouble shopping for foods that are simultaneously interesting, flavorful, and nutritious. Nearly 54 percent of participating parents even confessed to not knowing much about plant-based foods. The Gerber poll aims to understand what parents need to feel confident while introducing healthier foods to their children.

“It can take up to 10 times for a baby to accept a new food — so don’t give up,” Whitney Casares, Ph.D., Gerber’s pediatric medical consultant and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement. “For parents looking to incorporate plant-based choices, I advise ‘feeding baby the rainbow’ from a variety of foods.”

What Do Kids Want to Eat?

The Gerber study examined how parents and kids responded to dietary changes and the introduction of healthy foods. Parents responded that lack of information (45 percent), child preferences (28 percent), and cost (22 percent) were the most pressing barriers to introducing new foods.

The Gerber study went a step further to see what children’s favorite foods were. According to the parents, their kid's favorite foods are strawberries (30 percent) and bananas (29 percent). The parents also noted that beans (22 percent), peas (21 percent), and corn (20 percent) received the most pushback from their kids.

The poll found that 55 percent of parents hope their child follows the same diet as them. Parents and children shared meals including plant-based protein (39 percent), grains and legumes (36 percent), bread (35 percent), citrus fruits (33 percent), and meals that have been seasoned (32 percent) together.

Gerber Looks to Plant-Based Children's Food

This April, Gerber announced that it developed a plant-based toddler food designed to provide the correct nutrient to children without animal ingredients. Hoping to give vegan parents a sigh of relief, the Plant-tastic selection is geared to make plant-based food appetizing for young children. The plant-based food is also affordable, and completely carbon neutral as certified by the Carbon Trust. Nearly 81 percent of households with children buy plant-based protein, indicating a growing demand for family-oriented vegan solutions.

“We hear from parents [that] they want more plant-based protein options that align with their food and climate values,” Gerber President and CEO Tarun Malkani said at the time. “Gerber Plant-tastic offers stage-based nutrition across milestones starting with organic toddler pouches, snacks, and meals.”

Some parents feel skeptical of relying on plant-based foods to give their children the necessary nutrients. But one study released this May debunks the myth that plant-based foods are inadequate. The study from St. Michael’s Hospital researchers found that vegetarian kids are just as healthy as meat eaters. Published in Pediatrics, the study revealed that both sets of children exhibited similar body mass index (BMI), height, iron, vitamin D, and cholesterol levels.

“Over the last 20 years we have seen growing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with more access to plant-based alternatives, however, we have not seen research into the nutritional outcomes of children following vegetarian diets in Canada,” Lead author of the study and pediatrician Dr. Jonathon Maguire said in a statement.

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