Sensory-Based Exposure to Healthy Foods Helps Kids Make Better Food Choices, Study Finds

Sensory-Based Exposure to Healthy Foods Helps Kids Make Better Food Choices, Study Finds
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New research finds children who are exposed to sensory-based food education around healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are more likely to want to eat those foods later in life.

The study, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, focused on 3-to-5-year-olds. Some of the children were exposed to the sensory-based food education programs while others were not. The children were then offered a snack buffet, and those children who experienced the sensory education were more likely to choose fruits and vegetables.

The researchers also noticed the increased willingness to opt for fresh fruits and veggies by children whose mother’s had lower educational backgrounds. The socioeconomic findings are significant, say the researchers, because of lower education levels among parents can often equate to poor food choices in the home.

“Another interesting finding is that 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.

The study is not the first to look at the benefits of early exposure to healthy foods. The more a child is presented with healthy foods — fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains — the more likely they are to maintain healthy eating habits. A growing number of pediatricians now even recommend pureeing “grown-up” food for infants so they develop a taste for healthy foods, including herbs and spices (sodium intake should be minimized for infants, though).

Other research supports the “repeat exposure” technique in returning frowned-on foods to plates so that children can try them more than once. Research has found that it can take nearly two-dozen exposures to a food before the “ick” factor dissipates.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.