Nursery school games encourage toddlers to try new healthy foods

November 19, 2014, University of Reading
Nursery school games encourage toddlers to try new healthy foods

Toddlers could receive a kick-start to a healthier diet later in life by taking part in fun fruit and veg games at nursery school, new University of Reading research has found.

In a study of Berkshire nursery , the researchers found that who had drawn, smelled and poked unusual , including and pomagranates, were 32% more likely to taste them over other vegetables at a mealtime. The toddlers also touched 66% of the vegetables they had done the activities with, compared to only 49% of the unfamiliar vegetables.

Fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with lower levels of obesity and a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers of the mouth, lungs and stomach. The earlier healthy eating habits begin, the greater the health benefits. Yet, only one in five children achieve the recommended five portions of a day.

Vegetable consumption is especially low in young children. According to a recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey pre-schoolers eat on average 74 g of vegetables per day, less than one adult portion. In some parts of the UK 40% of pre-schoolers eat no vegetables at all.

Dr Carmel Houston-Price, from the University's School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, led the study. She said: "Fruit and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. By developing a fondness for a wide variety of healthy foods toddlers stand the best chance of having a 'five a day' diet later in life.

"But getting toddlers to try something new is not an easy task. Most parents will have experienced frustration, and a messy floor, when encouraging their toddler to try different foods - especially when it isn't a high fat or sugary treat. Our study showed that introducing new foods through fun familiarisation activities such as letting children poke their fingers inside foods, smelling them and drawing pictures of them, increased toddlers' willingness to touch and taste them at mealtimes - especially the vegetables."

The study involved ninety-two children from six nurseries, aged between 12 and 36 months. They were separated into a control group and a study group which took part in sensory activities with unfamiliar foods, such as sweet potato, broad beans, rhubarb and pomegranates, every day for four weeks.

The researchers then conducted a mealtime taste test to see whether exposure to the fruit and veg made any difference to children's choices. Straight away, the researchers noticed that most children chose to touch and taste the fruit and vegetables that had been used in the activities first, before they considered whether to taste the foods they had not seen before.

Dr Houston-Price continued: "At around the age of two years, children become more cautious about what they will eat - which is sensible because as they become increasingly mobile they encounter lots of things that are not safe to eat. This means that toddlers, like many of us, like to know exactly what it is they are eating."

The research comes after health leaders called for an emergency taskforce to be set up to tackle childhood obesity in England earlier this year. The group called better co-ordination of obesity treatment services so that all children can be encouraged to eat healthily from a young age.

Dr Houston-Price added: "Poor diet in childhood is associated with obesity and increases the risk of a range of life-threatening illnesses in later life. Our research could help parents to introduce more vegetables into children's diets, and encourage children to make healthy food choices and actually enjoy eating healthily as they grow older."

Explore further: A means of combatting childhood obesity

More information: "Exposure to foods' non-taste sensory properties. A nursery intervention to increase children's willingness to try fruit and vegetables." Appetite. 2014 Sep 10;84C:1-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.08.040 . [Epub ahead of print]

Related Stories

A means of combatting childhood obesity

November 6, 2014
Recently, the World Health Organisation has highlighted that child obesity is a major problem. More than 40 million pre-school children worldwide are now overweight, the UK being no exception. Child obesity tends to track ...

Size matters when it comes to children's food choices

October 21, 2014
The secret to getting children to eat vegetables could lie in the portion size, a Deakin University study has revealed.

Children not eating enough fruit and veg

July 17, 2014
Less than every fourth child in Europe have enough fruit and vegetables included in their daily diet, a study by Swedish researchers at Örebro University and Karolinska Institutet shows. The findings are a part of an EU-funded ...

Overweight children who eat vegetables are healthier, research finds

October 28, 2014
Getting children who are overweight to regularly eat even just a helping or two of the right vegetables each day could improve their health in critical ways, a new study in the November edition of the Journal of the Academy ...

Puree helps kids make smooth transition to vegetables

November 12, 2014
Adding tiny amounts of vegetable puree to milk and then rice at the time of weaning makes children more likely to eat vegetables, new University of Leeds research shows.

Preschoolers eat healthy when parents set rules about food, study finds

November 7, 2014
Preschoolers whose parents have rules about what their children can and cannot eat have healthier eating habits than those raised without such rules, according to a new study by pediatrics researchers at the University at ...

Recommended for you

New approach improves detection of diseases at birth

September 13, 2018
The combination of a new sequencing technique and machine learning can speed up the diagnosis of diseases in newborns and reduce false-positive results, Yale researchers and their collaborators report.

Study finds that kids are more likely to drink healthier beverages if adults speak the truth—subtly

September 12, 2018
What's the best way to persuade children to drink water instead of unhealthy, sugar-laced beverages? Do you:

Boys and girls share similar math abilities at young ages, study finds

September 10, 2018
There has been much speculation about whether lower female participation rates in STEM fields can be traced to an innate male superiority in math and science. But a new University of Chicago study wanted to test whether boys ...

New advice on kids' concussions calls for better tracking

September 4, 2018
New children's concussion guidelines from the U.S. government recommend against routine X-rays and blood tests for diagnosis and reassure parents that most kids' symptoms clear up within one to three months.

Infants can distinguish between leaders and bullies, study finds

September 3, 2018
A new study finds that 21-month-old infants can distinguish between respect-based power asserted by a leader and fear-based power wielded by a bully.

Mom's use of opioids in pregnancy may stunt kids' learning

August 30, 2018
Learning disabilities and other special education needs are common in children born with opioid-related symptoms from their mother's drug use while pregnant, according to the first big U.S. study to examine potential long-term ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.