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Psychologists create new toolkit encouraging picky young eaters to play with food

Psychologists at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) have created a new ‘toolkit’ to help parents broaden the eating habits of fussy children.

The Sensory Play Toolkit is designed for parents with children who are picky over what they choose to eat – often to the detriment of their diet and mealtime experience.

It takes the form of a booklet, designed to help children between the ages of two to seven-years-old, and contains information, games and ideas to help increase confidence in children to enjoy meals and willingness try more foods.

Children rely on sensory experiences to learn about the world around them and one of the key pieces of advice for parents was- let children play with their food.

Dr Helen Coulthard and Dr Vicki Aldridge from DMU’s psychology team based the creation of the booklet on research findings which suggested sensory processing – hands-on playing with food - was linked to food acceptance.

The pair carried out a pilot five-week intervention which found greater tasting of fruits following sensory play with foods and non-foods compared to controls.

Helen Coulthard

Dr Coulthard (pictured above) said: “We specialise in non-taste techniques; this means encouraging children to interact with foods and food stimuli, without the pressure to try them.

“The toolkit is for families with children who are avoidant, picky or fussy eaters. A lot of advice about eating is based on promoting healthy foods which is not always helpful.

“For children who are currently refusing a lot of foods, focusing on ‘healthy’ foods such as fruits and vegetables may be unhelpful and unrealistic, adding pressure and making the problem worse.”

Vicki A

The sensory techniques were showcased earlier this year on BBC One’s ‘Easy Ways to Live Well’ with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Steph McGovern featuring DMU’s Dr Helen Coulthard as a consultant.

The aim of the new toolkit is to boost confidence in children to try new foods on their own through sensory style games.

Throughout the booklet, parents can follow key stages, starting by reflecting on their child’s likes and dislikes, working through sensory activities and eventually ways to introduce new foods; including a troubleshooting section with tips and phrases to use.

Parents can access a FREE downloadable version of the kit, especially helpful during lockdown to help children experience lots of sensations they may be missing out on by not being at school here

Parents can also follow the link to request a printed hard copy of the toolkit after answering a simple questionnaire.
Posted on Tuesday 2nd June 2020

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