Kids Allowed to Play With Their Food May Get a Health Boost

By Sandy Todd Webster
Mar 16, 2015

Parents everywhere know all too well how challenging it can be to introduce new foods to their young children, especially fruits and vegetables.

A study from the University of Reading, in Reading, England, may give these battle-weary parents some unexpected ammunition to try in the next food sortie: Let the children play with, touch, poke, smell, draw and have some fun with the food first.

In a study of 92 Berkshire, England, toddlers (12–36 months) that was published in the journal Appetite (2015; 84, 1–6), researchers found that those who had
drawn, smelled and poked unusual fruits and vegetables, including sweet potato and pomegranates, were 32% more likely to taste them over other vegetables at mealtime. The toddlers touched 66% of the vegetables they had interacted with, compared with only 49% of the unfamiliar vegetables.

Carmel Houston-Price, PhD, associate professor of developmental psychology at the university and leader of the study, 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 familiarization 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.”

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Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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