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Games can Encourage Toddlers to Try Healthy Foods

Update Date: Nov 19, 2014 01:13 PM EST

Teaching young kids healthy eating habits can be beneficial. In a new study, researchers from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom examined the effect of using games in nursery school and found that these fun fruit and vegetable games can encourage toddlers to try new healthy foods.

"Getting toddlers to try something new is not an easy task. Most parents will have experienced frustration, and a messy floor, when encouraging their toddler to try different foods - especially when it isn't a high fat or sugary treat. Our study showed that introducing new foods through fun familiarization activities such as letting children poke their fingers inside foods, smelling them and drawing pictures of them, increased toddlers' willingness to touch and taste them at mealtimes - especially the vegetables," lead investigator of the study, Dr. Carmel Houston-Price, from the University's School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences said.

For this study, the researchers recruited 92 toddlers, aged 12 to 36-months, from six nurseries. The toddlers were randomly divided into a control group and a study group. In the study group, the children played with unfamiliar foods, such as sweet potato, rhubarb and pomegranates every day for four weeks. The tasks involved smelling, poking, touching and drawing the foods. Kids in the control group did not have this kind of exposure to the new foods.

The researchers discovered that toddlers who played with the foods were 32 percent more likely to try them when the researchers introduced the foods during mealtime. The team concluded that early introduction to healthy foods could be key to combating childhood and adult obesity.

"At around the age of two years, children become more cautious about what they will eat - which is sensible because as they become increasingly mobile they encounter lots of things that are not safe to eat. This means that toddlers, like many of us, like to know exactly what it is they are eating." Dr. Houston-Price said according to Medical Xpress. "Fruit and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. By developing a fondness for a wide variety of healthy foods toddlers stand the best chance of having a 'five a day' diet later in life."

The study, "Exposure to foods' non-taste sensory properties. A nursery intervention to increase children's willingness to try fruit and vegetables," was published in the journal, Appetite.

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