Partnership for a Healthier America Launches ‘Veggies Early & Often’ Campaign to Build a Generation of Veggie Lovers
New icon will be adopted by partners across sectors to signal veggie-forward foods and approaches, including on product packaging by baby and toddler food brands to signal veggie-forward foods in the marketplace.
Date: January 26, 2021
Media Contacts: Partnership for a Healthier America: ABrenner@ahealthieramerica.org
WASHINGTON, DC - Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), the premier national nonprofit working to transform the food landscape in pursuit of health equity, announced today a new campaign, “Veggies Early and Often.” The campaign aims to transform the food landscape for our youngest eaters by offering consumers a new, reliable indicator that products marketed as having vegetables actually have vegetables in significant amounts and calling on brands and organizations to prioritize a veggie-forward approach.
PHA designed this nutrition education campaign with a cross-sector group of a dozen inaugural partners to align on the evidence that supports why young eaters need vegetables early in life. The campaign rallies together industry leaders, health professionals, early childhood educators, parents, and caregivers to raise a generation of veggie lovers by prioritizing innovative approaches to introduce and sustain the consumption of a variety of vegetables that children accept and enjoy. A critical component of the campaign will create transparency in the baby and food marketplace by signaling to parents products and approaches that meet and exceed PHA’s recommended veggie criteria through a new “Veggies Early and Often” icon that will be adopted on product packaging and in other settings.
“Despite vegetables being absolutely critical to a healthy life, infants and toddlers don’t eat nearly enough of them,” said Nancy E. Roman, President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America. “There is room for improvement in the retail baby and toddler food marketplace to include affordable products that promote children’s increased acceptance of veggies. Research demonstrates children must experience the taste and flavor of a vegetable to learn to like it, and many commercial baby food offerings miss the mark. Our hope is that this campaign will increase transparency in the baby and toddler food marketplace and accelerate consumer demand for veggie-forward options.”
In a new paper, also released today, PHA analyzed research shows that exposure to veggies early and often is key to raising adventurous, healthy eaters. Even though children are born with an innate affinity for sweetness and a distaste for bitterness, children’s taste preferences are malleable and can be shaped and modified by early dietary experiences. By offering our youngest eaters a wide variety of vegetables early and often, parents and caregivers can help foster the development of a broad taste palate and encourage a willingness to consume vegetables and diverse flavors during childhood. Introducing vegetables early is critical because beginning in the second year of life, children typically become more selective about what they eat. This food neophobia (or rejection of novel or unfamiliar foods) peaks between 2 and 6 years of age.
The research consolidated by PHA gives new urgency to move beyond the strategy to hide or mute vegetable flavors in baby and toddler food offerings, such as by mixing them with fruit puree and sweeteners. Research shows this strategy is not only unnecessary but counterproductive because it can reinforce a child’s innate sweet taste preferences and contribute to long-term adverse health consequences.
To increase consumption of vegetables among children aged 0 to 5, and to help parents and caregivers differentiate “veggie-forward” options from options with a small percentage of vegetables, PHA created an icon that companies can use on their packaging if products meet PHA’s Veggies Early & Often nutritional criteria, which are based on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. PHA hopes companies will use these standards to reformulate existing commercial baby food products or create new veggie-forward baby and toddler food products in line with these criteria at all price points in the marketplace.
“One aspect of the campaign I’m especially excited about is the Veggies Early & Often icon,” said Bettina Elias Siegel, author of Kid Food. “Right now, it can be really difficult for parents to figure out whether a given product contains a meaningful amount of vegetables because even if the label sports a big picture of carrots or spinach, the product can legally contain just a tiny sprinkling of that ingredient. In contrast, this new icon is backed by rigorous standards, so parents can trust that any product bearing it really does deliver on its veggie promise—not only benefiting their children nutritionally but also helping to expand their palates.”
The organizations and brands who plan on, or are currently meeting the Veggies Early & Often icon requirements, and intend to add the icon to their packaging, menus, website, or other retail marketing collateral are Fresh Bellies, Good Feeding, Learning Care Group, lil’gourmets, Nurture Life, Tiny Organics, and Square Baby.
The organizations that plan on providing educational outreach to parents, healthcare providers, and educators about the importance of veggies early and often are Cooking Matters, Bettina Elias Siegel (author of Kid Food and The Lunch Tray), KinderCare Education, National WIC Association, and the Dr. Yum Project.
Throughout 2021, PHA will:
Announce new partnerships to increase veggie-forward product options and broaden their accessibility in the baby and toddler food marketplace.
Host conversations for parents and caregivers, industry, early childhood educators, and health professionals featuring trailblazers and experts to discuss innovative approaches to increase and sustain consumption of vegetables among young children in order to raise a generation of veggie lovers.
Share the positive message across PHA and partner channels that kids CAN learn to love veggies and what the science shows.
Quotes from Veggies Early and Often Campaign Partners:
“The Dr. Yum Project is proud to be a part of this exciting campaign,” said Nimali Fernando, MD, MPH, Founder of the Dr. Yum Project. “We understand the importance of developing a strong foundation of early feeding experiences. We are honored to work with so many experts to share hands-on information with parents, pediatricians, and early childhood educators to make sure this generation gets a strong start to a lifetime of healthy eating.”
"We are thrilled to partner with the PHA on such an important mission—one that has been at the heart of Fresh Bellies since our inception”, said Saskia Sorrosa, Founder and CEO of Fresh Bellies. "The scientific consensus is remarkable, most of what we learn about food happens when we are children, and exposure to veggies and savory flavors early on trains palates to make healthier choices later in life. This work with the PHA is critical in driving change within the industry and in furthering our mission to combat childhood obesity by creating a new generation of healthful, adventurous eaters”, she added.
"Childhood obesity in the United States is a HUGE problem, said Phil McGrath, Co-founder & CEO of Good Feeding. “It starts right from the very beginning because high-sugar and nutrient-poor baby food dominates the market. Why? Because babies are born with a propensity for sweet flavors, leading to babies developing a sweet tooth before they even have teeth! And this early sugar-dependency can cause a lifetime of unhealthy food decisions. At Good Feeding, we believe if we stop this cycle before it starts, by introducing veggies early and often, babies will not only be happier, healthier eaters. And, they will naturally make better choices as they grow, becoming happier, healthier adults.”
“I am thrilled that PHA is undertaking this important work, as I have first-hand experience in introducing nutritious eating patterns that set the stage for a healthy diet throughout a child’s life,” said Rupa Mahadevan, MD, FAAP, ABOIM, Assistant Professor of Medicine at LSU/ Ochsner Health System, Director of Culinary Medicine at Feist Weiller Cancer Center. “Parents often feel frustrated when a child doesn’t immediately like a new food, and vegetables are a particular struggle for many. What we’re finding is that the key to success is making a variety of food introductions early, including vegetables, flavors, and textures, and repeating this exposure often. This repeated exposure helps shape a child’s taste preferences, combats picky eating, and provides power-packed nutrients through healthy vegetables, herbs, and spices early on. The longer-term benefits are significant, as increased servings of fruits and vegetables daily can help balance the immune system, combat the current obesity epidemic, and instill healthy eating habits that will last through adulthood.”
“At KinderCare Education, we know that an important part of our job is helping children develop healthy eating habits,” said Courtney Hines, Registered Dietician at KinderCare Education. “Introducing children to new foods, flavors, and textures, has always been at the heart of our Grow Happy nutrition program. And that’s why we are excited to partner with PHA’s Veggies Early & Often campaign to further the work we are doing to help KinderCare children get the foundation of good nutrition from the start.
“We recognize that teaching children to make healthy choices is as fundamental to their development as providing a healthy environment for them to grow and thrive,” said Mark Bierley, CEO, Learning Care Group. “With vegetables at the heart of our schools’ nutritious Grow Fit menu, our children are developing their palates early as they build a foundation for a lifetime of healthy habits. We’re proud to support the ‘Veggies Early & Often’ initiative in nurturing a healthier generation.”
“We are thrilled to work alongside PHA on the Veggies: Early & Often Campaign, as its underlying research was the founding principle behind lil’gourmets, and drives our mission to cultivate a curiosity of both vegetables and flavors from around the world,” said Shibani Baluja, Founder and CEO of lil’gourmets. “We know that the early introduction of delicious and diverse, veggie-packed foods can help develop a love of vegetables and change our perception of veggies from something we have to eat to something we love to eat. And we use that same research to introduce our youngest eaters to diverse flavors, to cultivate a love of flavors from around the world. With PHA and all our Shaping Early Palates partners, we can amplify this message and let parents, the medical community, and industry influencers know that there is a solution to combat picky eating and it’s one that has incredible long-term health benefits too!”
“At Nurture Life our mission is to deliver a healthier world through better nutrition for our kids. According to the CDC, 93% of children ages 2 to 18 do not consume the recommended amount of vegetables daily,” said Jennifer Chow, Co-founder of Nurture Life. “We are honored to be a part of PHA’s Veggies Early and Often initiative as vegetable consumption by children is so critical for their proper growth and development. At Nurture Life, we provide families fresh, nutritionally balanced meals for their babies, toddlers, and kids with a full serving of vegetables or more in all of our toddler and kid meals. We are so excited to be partnering with PHA to elevate the importance of vegetable consumption for children from the start.“
"The Veggies Early & Often campaign has never been more necessary as we know that only about 10% of young kiddos meet their recommended veggie intake,” said Katie Thomson, MS, RDN, Co-founder and CEO of Square Baby. “And, between 4 and 7 months of age is when infants are most receptive to accepting new flavors and textures. Unfortunately, many baby food companies aren’t helping as we continue to see a sea of fruit-heavy pouches that are misleadingly marketed. Together, with our PHA family, we can help the next generation learn to LOVE their veggies and set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.”
“We’re thrilled to be part of the Veggies Early & Often campaign because it aligns with our core values and mission to raise a new generation of children that will grow up to be the healthiest versions of themselves,” said Betsy Fore, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Tiny Organics. “By offering savory-forward products and meeting the new Veggies Early & Often requirements, we’re excited to set a new industry standard in the market for what it means to introduce vegetables from the earliest days.”
About Partnership for a Healthier America
PHA’s mission is to leverage the power of the private sector to transform the food landscape in pursuit of health equity. In 2010, PHA was created in conjunction with Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! effort. PHA identifies, accelerates, and celebrates voluntary business practices that improve or increase choice or lead to new norms and behavior around food and physical activity. For more information about PHA, please visit www.ahealthieramerica.org and follow PHA on Twitter @PHAnews.