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Picture books can help parents introduce veg into toddler diets – University of Reading

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Picture books can help parents introduce veg into toddler diets

Release Date 30 July 2018

Garden peas

Getting toddlers to eat vegetables could be a little bit easier with the help of a new study which suggests that visual familiarisation to vegetables using picture books can increase the liking of veggies.

The study, published in Appetite, found that families who showed a young child books with information and pictures of vegetables that they initially did not like helped to increase their liking and intake of the food both straight after the study and in a follow up period three months later.

Families who took part in the test were asked to identify target foods that they wanted their under twos (21-24 months) to eat. They were then split into three groups with one group looking at a picture book about their target veg, one group seeing a book about their target fruit, and a control group. After two weeks of looking at the books, families were asked to try to introduce both target foods by offering a taste of these every day for a further fortnight. Parents were then asked how much their child liked each food and how often they ate these, both straight after the trial and three months later.

Professor Carmel Houston-Price, lead author of the study from the University of Reading said: “The conventional logic has been that repeated taste exposure to vegetables is the only way to build childhood tolerance to vegetables. What we wanted to check was whether there is any added benefit from other kinds of familiarisation, such as knowing what a vegetable looks like and where it comes from.

“Interestingly, we found a strong effect of using picture books to increase children’s liking and consumption of vegetables, but not fruits. There are a number of possible explanations, but it seems likely that once a child has tried tasting a fruit a few times, the natural sweetness of fruits results in increased liking without the need for additional visual familiarisation.”

Children’s natural fear of trying new foods, known as food neophobia, was also tested among the children who took part in the study. Children’s fear of new foods was measured at a baseline, after the intervention and at the follow-up period after three months. While the control group showed a typical pattern of increasing neophobia over this period, children who took part in visual familiarisation using books did not show this increased fussiness.

Prof Houston-Price continued: “The fear of trying new foods is pretty common at about two years old. This is likely an evolutionary development to prevent increasingly independent minded toddlers from putting unfamiliar items in their mouth, as these may or may not be edible!.

“We would generally expect to see food neophobia scores increasing during the 24+ months phase. What is really interesting is that using the picture books to familiarise children with a target fruit or vegetable seems to reduce the fear of trying other new foods as well as the specific foodstuff that was shown in the trial.

So, if you are struggling with persuading your toddler to eat broccoli, try spending some time looking at and learning about the food with your child, before you put it on the table at dinnertime. It might just work.

Peer Reviewed

Full citation:

Peas, please! Food familiarization through picture books helps parents introduce vegetables into preschoolers’ diets; Laura H. Owen, Orla B. Kennedy, Claire Hill, Carmel Houston-Price. Appetite 128 (2018);  doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.05.140

This research was funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council.

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