Children allowed to squash, touch and handle fruit and vegetables at mealtimes are less likely to be picky eaters, according to new research.
De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) researchers found toddlers who were given permission to mess around with foods like bananas, tomatoes and oranges were more likely to eat fruit and vegetables.
The findings, published in the journal Appetite, suggests that it is touch and feel – not taste, as has long been suggested - which could be the catalyst to encouraging children to eat more healthily.
The study, led by DMU’s Dr Helen Coulthard
, involved 62 pre-school children aged three to four from nurseries around Northampton. They were split into three groups.
Group one was given bowls of broccoli, carrots, spinach, banana, radishes, green beans, oranges, lemons, cucumbers, tomatoes and blueberries.
They were asked to use them to reproduce pictures from the children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The children were encouraged to squash or reshape the foods if they needed to.
Another group was told to instead play with pompoms, sequins, foam shapes, feathers, glitter and pipe cleaners.
A third group was allowed to play a similar game but with a researcher handling the foods rather than them. Immediately after playing, the children were asked if they would like to try any of the items.
The results revealed that those who had played with them tried significantly more fruit and vegetables than those in the rival groups.
At no time during the experiment were they encouraged to consume any of the fruits or vegetables. Instead, they naturally took to eating healthy snacks immediately after the test. Parents were asked to record typical fruit and veg intake in the weeks before the experiment.
The researchers said: "One explanation is they had time to familiarise themselves and interact with the foods. This would suggest exposure does not have to be based on taste alone. We found the largest benefits were with foods that are less familiar, such as pomegranate and kiwi. During play, there was no mention of tasting the food. The goal was to engage with it and create something from it. It may be these types of activities increase the likelihood of tasting by children."
Researchers said the key is not to put pressure on children but to let them play instead. It is estimated that only around 16 percent of pre-school children in Britain eat the recommended daily allowance of five portions of fruit and vegetables.
Posted on Monday 20th February 2017