It may not be surprising that most preschoolers don't eat the recommended number of vegetables (1 cup per day for 2-3 year olds, and 1.5 cups per day for 4-5 year olds), but you may be shocked to learn that many preschoolers don't consume any vegetables on a daily basis. We know that food preferences develop early in life, and teaching our young children to enjoy vegetables is one important way we can impact their health.

A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that offering reduced-fat dip flavored with herbs and spices helps preschoolers eat more vegetables, including vegetables that they previously disliked. In as few as four tasting sessions, preschoolers in this study consumed more of a disliked vegetable when it was served with an herb dip than when it was eaten alone.

Three strategies are important: young children enjoy eating crunchy raw vegetables they can pick up and eat with their fingers; preschoolers love to 'dip' food, and dips containing familiar herb and spice flavors such as ranch and pizza help children eat more vegetables.

The pizza dip in the study used basil, oregano, parsley flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, Romano cheese powder, cheddar cheese powder, and paprika. The ranch dip used onion flakes, parsley flakes, dill, and salt. The researches chose low-fat mayonnaise as the base for the dip, but you could also use low-fat sour cream or even fat-free plain Greek yogurt which contains more protein and calcium than either the mayonnaise or the sour cream.

Young children often require multiple opportunities to taste a food before they begin to regularly consume it. Instead of deciding that your child doesn't like a specific vegetable after one or two tries, continue to routinely serve a variety of vegetables to give your children the opportunity to learn to appreciate new tastes. Serve a small amount of low-fat or fat-free dip along with the vegetables, and you may be surprised at how much they eat.

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online.