New research encourages toddlers to try healthy foods
Release Date 02 December 2009
Research by psychologists at the University of Reading may encourage young children to eat healthier foods.
Preliminary findings published this week suggest that toddlers (around 21-24 months) who regularly look at pictures of vegetables and fruit not part of their normal diet are much more enthusiastic about trying them.
Dr Carmel Houston-Price, of the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science, said: “From earlier research we knew that children are more willing to look at foods when they have seen books about them and we wanted to see if the books also made children more willing to eat unfamiliar foods.”
Young children can be particularly fussy when it comes to trying new foods, and will often refuse to eat food unfamiliar to them.
Parents were given picture books about four foods, two fruits and two vegetables. Two of them were familiar to the child, such as carrots and grapes, and two were unfamiliar, such as radish and lychees. They read the book every day with their toddler for two weeks.
The toddlers then took part in ‘a willingness to taste test’, at which they were offered four vegetables (the two in their book and two not in the book), followed by a plate of four fruits.
Overall, the children were more interested in tasting unfamiliar foods if they had previously seen pictures of these in books. So, for example, children who had seen lychees in their books tasted these before trying a fruit not shown, such as blueberries. Toddlers who had seen blueberries chose these before lychees.
“We think that showing children pictures of healthy foods might work to increase their willingness to taste them,” said Dr Houston-Price. “In the future we will examine whether picture books might be used to help parents introduce new foods at home, and whether parents whose children are fussy eaters might particularly benefit from this strategy.”
This preliminary investigation involved a small sample¹but the Economic and Social Research Council has awarded the researchers a £100,000 grant to undertake a bigger study with 120 children in the Spring.
Further information from Rona Cheeseman, Press Officer, on 0118 378 7388
Notes to editors
Dr Carmel Houston-Price is available for interview. Please call the press office number above to arrange.
¹The study was based on 20 toddlers, 10 boys and 10 girls. It has been published online:
Houston-Price C., Butler L., Shiba P., 2009, Visual exposure impacts on toddlers’ willingness to taste fruits and vegetables. Appetite 53 (3): 450-453
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The School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at Reading is renowned for its excellence in teaching and research. In the last national Research Assessment Exercise in 2008, 95% of the research produced by academic staff in the department was recognised as of international quality, with over 60% rated as 'internationally excellent' or 'world leading'. It was also awarded the top marks for its teaching with an Excellent rating in the last Teaching Quality Audit.
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