Press Releases

New research encourages toddlers to try healthy foods – University of Reading

Release Date : 02 December 2009

toddler eating

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


If you would like a copy of this article, please contact the press office.


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.



The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funds research and training in social and economic issues. It is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter, but receives most of its funding through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Its planned expenditure for 2009/10 is £204 million, which funds over 2,500 researchers in academic institutions and policy research institutes throughout the UK.


University of Reading

The University of Reading is rated as one of the top 200 universities in the world (THE-QS World Rankings 2009).


  • The University of Reading is one of the UK’s top research-intensive universities. The University is ranked in the top 20 UK higher education institutions in securing research council grants worth nearly £10 million from EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC. In the RAE 2008, over 87% of the university’s research was deemed to be of international standing. Areas of particular research strength recognised include meteorology and climate change, typography and graphic design, archaeology, philosophy, food biosciences, construction management, real estate and planning, as well as law.


  • Standards of teaching are excellent - the University scored highly in the National Student Survey 2009.  87% of Reading students responding to the survey stated they were satisfied with the quality of their course.


  • The University is estimated to contribute £600 million to the local economy annually.


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