Getting kids to eat healthy foods like fruit and vegetables – especially vegetables – is a task that parents have struggled with for ages. Some parents have had to get creative to get vegetables into particularly stubborn children; there are plenty of cookbooks that contain instructions for how to “sneak” vegetables and fruit into more kid-appealing fare by pureeing them and hiding them in brownies or mashed potatoes, for example. Few parents are above culinary subterfuge if it means their kids will eat healthy, but there may be a more straightforward way to get veggies to appeal to children – just 3D print them into fun shapes.

It is known that kids (and, let’s be honest, many adults) are more likely to eat something if it looks cool or is an interesting shape. Why do you think dinosaur chicken nuggets are so popular? Vegetables shouldn’t be an exception, according to several researchers, and now that food 3D printers exist, we have an easy way to create healthy foods in the shapes of animals or other images that kids are drawn to. 3D printing is already being used to create new pasta shapes, and even kid-friendly shaped medicine, so why not fruits and vegetable shapes as well?

In a study entitled “Application of 3D printing for customized food. A case on the development of a fruit-based snack for children,” which you can access here, the researchers detail how they developed a blend of bananas, white beans, mushrooms and milk, which they 3D printed into the shape of an octopus. The blend itself doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, but the resulting octopus-snack looks like something most kids would reach for in an instant.

[Image via The Times]

“This snack was based on ingredients that are sources of iron, calcium and vitamin D. Some of these are not appreciated by children, but in the shape of an octopus [it’s different],” said lead author Professor Carla Severini of the University of Foggia. “Other examples are with fish and cauliflower, two ingredients traditionally rejected by children. Also we are investigating printed snacks based on insects, which are very rich in terms of protein but absolutely rejected by western people. Could different mixtures be mass-produced and bought in by schools? We strongly hope so.”

I have my doubts about insect snacks; personally, if I know something contains insects, I will refuse to touch it – likely more stubbornly than most children – no matter how pretty it looks. Presumably, the vegetable and fruit blends also have to taste good, as well, or else kids are still likely to take a bite and toss them aside. 3D printing allows plenty of room for experimentation, though.

[Image: Shutterstock]

3D printed food has plenty of detractors, and it has understandably been seen by many people as little more than a novelty. A closer look at the possible applications for 3D printed food, however, reveals some potentially very useful ideas for the technology. For example, foods can be 3D printed in forms that are easier for people with difficulty swallowing to eat, and 3D food printers have also been introduced as a way for restaurants to safely produce food for people with dietary restrictions. Ultimately, it’s likely that these applications will be the most lasting and significant in terms of making a real difference in people’s lives.

Fun 3D printed desserts may not go anywhere, but the idea put forth by these researchers covers is both fun and useful. Just as babies can be coaxed to accept their mashed peas if they’re delivered in the form of a spoon airplane, older kids who balk at being told to eat their green beans may respond much more enthusiastically to being told to eat their kangaroos or sharks. Discuss in the 3D Printed Vegetables forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: The Independent / The Times]

 

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