Pregnant and breastfeeding women who eat bitter vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli can help their kids accept vegetables in early childhood, a new Ministry of Health-commissioned report advises.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has welcomed today's release of the How We Eat report, saying it highlights how Kiwis' eating behaviours can make a significant difference to body size and diet.

"There have been a number of studies on eating behaviour but this report brings together a wide body of evidence and, for the first time, assesses what behaviours have the most impact."

Other key findings include to avoid watching TV while eating, given people tend to eat more in front of a screen, and to involve children in preparing meals.


How We Eat was authored by University of Auckland researchers Sarah Gerritsen and Associate Professor Clare Wall.

Some of its findings are presented below, along with an overall grade based on factors including the quality of the evidence, the potential impact of the recommendation, and its relevance to the New Zealand population.

Advice for pregnant/breastfeeding mothers

• Involving a woman's partner and/or mother in breastfeeding education can help breastfeeding initiation and duration (grade A).

• Eating a variety of foods including bitter vegetables can help improve a child's acceptance of vegetables (grade B).

Advice for parents with children under 5

• Parents should offer a wide range of foods, regardless of their own food preferences (grade B).

• Restricting food (when they appear to eat too much) or pressuring a child to eat (when they appear to eat too little) are counterproductive, and such coercion can lead to poor dietary behaviours and increased body weight (grade A).

• Avoid strict rules, but don't give a child total freedom over what they eat (grade A).

• Using non-food related rewards, such as praise, can increase a child's intake of fruit and vegetables (grade B).

Advice for school-aged children, teenagers and their parents

• Eating a healthy breakfast can help lift academic performance (grade A).

• Eating together as a family may improve diet quality, but there doesn't appear to be an effect on body size (grade B).

• Watching TV while eating increases food intake, even in the absence of food advertisements. This effect may be present with other screens like computers and tablets (grade A).

Advice for adults

• Eating a healthy breakfast daily appears to improve diet quality overall and may protect against weight gain, but is not associated with weight loss (grade B).

• People concerned about their weight should focus on energy intake over the day rather than eating frequency (grade A).