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Saima Hasnin poses for a portrait on the UNL campus on Monday, November 8, 2021 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Soggy, flavorless green beans don’t sound appetizing, especially for children who already eat too few vegetables, but a University of Nebraska-Lincoln doctoral student is looking to understand if there is a way to prepare vegetables so children actually eat them. 

Saima Hasnin, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies, is leading a project to study if the way child care providers prepare vegetables has an effect on children's consumption.

Child care providers across the state face the daily challenge of getting children to eat their recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which Hasnin said is super low, especially vegetable intake.

“In the U.S., the most wasted food is vegetables in child care; 60% of the vegetables served go into plate waste,” Hasnin said. “They just don't consume it.”

Hasnin said she is working with home-based child care providers who shop for, prepare and serve food to children to learn how well children eat vegetables depending on how they are served. During her pilot study, researchers observed that child care providers were serving microwaved mixed vegetables without adding anything for flavor, such as salt, Hasnin said. 

“[Children] consume at least one-third to two-thirds of their daily requirement of their food and energy intake there,” Hasnin said. “So it's very crucial to see if they are meeting their requirements.”

There are policies that ensure childcare providers serve children vegetables, but simply serving vegetables does not directly translate into children eating them, Hasnin said. Her research works to bridge this gap and increase consumption.

The project is funded by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute grant and the Administration of Children and Families, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. Hasnin said the process of applying for grants was a good professional development opportunity for her as she builds her career as an independent professional.

Dipti Dev, an associate professor and childhood health behaviors extension specialist, serves as the chair and adviser for Saima’s doctoral program and is the faculty mentor for the current project, according to an article by Nebraska Today. 

“The whole purpose of the lab is to improve children's dietary intake and to improve the lives of children and families,” Dev said, “and to prevent chronic diseases, especially children in rural communities who are at risk for health disparities.”

Hasnin came to UNL from Bangladesh in 2017 to pursue a doctoral program. In Bangladesh, she attended the University of Dhaka where she earned her undergraduate degree and masters. She originally decided to study nutrition because she was interested in public health science, but it was not offered at the time. 

When Hasnin first came to UNL, a friend in the nutrition department sent her Dev’s work, which Hasnin said she found interesting and innovative. She reached out and they began working together.

“Working with her gave me exposure to learn about preschool children's nutritional intake in the U.S. and how early childhood obesity is a major public health program political problem in the U.S.,” Hasnin said. “This problem has been increasing day by day in developed countries.”

Working with Dev also gave her exposure to community-based nutrition and different research methodologies. She also learned how to develop a program from scratch. 

Hasnin said she wanted to go out to the community and interact with people, instead of just having lab-based research. 

“Students should see the purpose in what they are doing and students should feel like they have their direction,” Dev said. “My job is making sure Saima has the support and direction she needs to move forward with this project.”

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