Should your child be this picky with food?

Should your child be this picky with food? (Nicole Hill, Getty Images)

"That's not to say that every child will grow to like every vegetable because we all have our own idiosyncratic likes and dislikes, and we would never advocate pursuing this beyond the 14 tastes mark. If a child's not responsive, we suggest that a parent move on to something else. But we have had tremendous positive feedback from parents who have done this."

Repeat after me

Lucy Cooke, co-author of a large 2003 study that found repeated tastings increased a child's acceptance of a vegetable, says she can't guarantee that parents will get the same results she did, but the technique does look "very promising."

Here's the basic procedure: Every day for 14 days, the parent would offer the child small pieces of a single "moderately disliked" target vegetable (either carrot, celery, tomato, red pepper, green pepper or cucumber, depending on the child's tastes). The vegetable was served raw and the kid could eat as much or as little as she liked. A parent might say, "You don't have to eat it, just taste it" or "I've (tried) it, can you do it too?"

At the end of the 14 days, the children were consuming more of their target vegetables, and reporting that they liked them more.

Not all kids are willing to even try a disliked vegetable, Cooke acknowledges, but she says a small nonfood incentive can tip the balance. In two subsequent studies that she co-authored, kids were offered stickers for tasting the target vegetable, with good results. All of the kids were willing to try the moderately disliked vegetable when the sticker incentive was added, she says.

Cooke doesn't advise continuing the daily tastings after 14 tries, and she says that, under some circumstances, 10 tries are probably enough.

"The evidence is pretty good that 10 (tries) will do the trick — 15 is optimal, but we do fully understand that it's just beyond the patience of many parents to persevere that long — especially if the child doesn't appear to be responding," she says.

"I think that I would feel that if a child doesn't respond at all by 10, I would give up (on that vegetable) and start with something else."