Chocolate flavoured veg acts as carrot for healthy eating

"Urrrgh, it's sort of squishy," wailed Rosa, 9, "I don't like it". As she gingerly picked up a spoonful of chocolate-flavoured carrots, her classmates took up the chant: "Eat, eat, eat,eat."

To her right, Mohammed was shovelling down cheese-and-onion flavoured cauliflower, declaring it as "good as my mum's", while Liam looked as if he would be sick.

With Britain's children turning their noses up at vital fruit and vegetables, health experts and retailers are joining forces to try to lure them back to loving greens.

Supermarkets such as Safeways have launched "kid-sized" fruit and vegetable packs and yesterday Iceland unveiled their "wacky veg" range, consisting of chocolate-flavoured carrots, pizza-flavoured sweetcorn, baked-bean- flavoured peas and cheese-and-onion flavoured cauliflower.

They expect to sell pounds 500,000 worth of the 99p packets in the next three weeks.

Of 300,000 people who develop cancer every year in the UK, around a third are diet related and potentially preventable. "There is a clear link between a diet high in vegetables and cancer prevention, yet recent research highlighted that mums are losing the battle to get their kids to eat vegetables," said Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign.

He said that attempts to persuade children to eat their greens through health education had all failed and a radical approach was needed.

"I think it is a serious attempt to do something helpful," he said. "I don't think its frivolous."

A survey by Strathclyde University earlier this year found that Christmas dinner was the only meal when most British children get an adequate intake of vegetables.

The researchers found that many mothers had given up forcing the issue of vegetable consumption because they disliked the stress.

At Gillespie Primary School, Year Four [eight- and nine-year-olds] named their least favourite vegetables as Brussels sprouts and peas, while their favourite, surprisingly, was broccoli.

Presented with the wacky veg they were intrigued but not always won over. Liam, aged nine, who said he didn't like any vegetables, managed a small mouthful before declaring them all "disgusting".

"I don't like the peas. They're nasty. They're awful. The sweetcorn is alright but I don't like the rest. I hate all vegetables." he said.

Rosa, next to him, was equally sniffy: "The carrots are slimy and they taste of toffee not chocolate," she said. "I don't like squishy things."

But those who had only expressed a mild dislike of veg were won over: "They are nicer than usual," said Shaahra. "They are sweeter."

Mohammed and Ben had polished off the cauliflower and peas and wanted second helpings: "I love cauliflower. I reckon I eat vegetables once or twice a week at home. For lunch I think I would have bread, crisps and chocolate," said Mohammed. "It looks horrible but it tastes nice," said Mandy, stirring the carrots in their brown sauce.

"Yum, they're nicer than normal carrots," added George.

For parents who balk at flavoured vegetables [be relieved: bubblegum broccoli was one of the ideas which was rejected] kid-friendly snack packs of mini-carrots, cherry tomatoes and individually wrapped apples and pears could be more appealing.

The major problem was that few of the children could open the sturdy plastic covering.

Those who liked vegetables preferred the raw carrots to the chocolate variety, crunching them with enthusiasm, but those who did not want to eat veg in the first place hated the raw ones: "Yuk, it's horrible," said George, nine, pulling an unholy grimace as he tasted a carrot. "Urgh, can I put it in the bin, miss?" said Liam after one taste of a cherry tomato.

Leaving the classroom, the children were asked what kind of chocolate bars they liked.

Twix, Galaxy, Mars, Lion bars - the names came rushing out. And what kind of fruit? Apples, oranges, grapes - then the names dried up. "I don't like apples, I'd rather have sweets," said Mehmet, summing up the views of many.