Sensory-based food education for nursery-aged children increases their willingness to choose vegetables, berries and fruit, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland found that sensory-based food education promotes healthy dietary habits in early childhood education and care.
During the study they made used of a method known as Sapere, which gives children an active role around food and encourages them to explore using all of the five senses.
Sensory-based food education is well suited to the everyday life of kindergartens, where children eat several meals every day and participate in pedagogically oriented group activities.
Kindergartens have a variety of methods to choose from when delivering food education. For example, they can introduce different vegetables, berries and fruit to children in hands-on sessions, they can involve children in baking and cooking, and they can offer children opportunities for growing their own vegetables in the kindergarten backyard. Food-related themes can also be included in books and games.
The researchers compared children in different kindergarten groups. Some were offered sensory-based food education, while others weren’t. Children were offered a snack buffet containing different vegetables, berries and fruit to choose from, and the researchers took photos of their plates to analyse their willingness to choose and eat these food items.
The findings show that sensory-based food education given in kindergarten increased children’s willingness to choose vegetables, berries and fruit – especially among children whose mothers have a lower educational background.
On average, children of lower educated parents tend to eat less vegetables, berries and fruit. This is how food education given in the kindergarten can help even out dietary differences between families.
“The Sapere food education method also seems to improve the eating atmosphere in kindergarten groups. This encouraged children who, according to their parents, were picky eaters, to choose a more diverse selection of vegetables, berries and fruit on their plate,” says Researcher, Nutritionist Kaisa Kähkönen from the University of Eastern Finland.
Positive and personal food-related experiences gained in the kindergarten can help modify dietary preferences in a direction that is beneficial for health. Dietary preferences learned in early childhood often stick with a person all the way to adolescence and adulthood, she explains.
The Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland studies how food education in early childhood can promote good nutrition among children and promote the establishment of healthy dietary habits.
The study was carried out in collaboration between researchers from the Universities of Eastern Finland and Jyväskylä. The study was funded by the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation.