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Sensory-Based Food Education Helps Tots Choose Produce

Hands-on activities such as cooking and gardening boosted fruit and vegetable consumption in kindergartners

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A study from the University of Eastern Finland published in Public Health Nutrition reports that sensory-based food education given to 3- to 5-year-old kindergarten children increases their willingness to choose vegetables, berries and fruit. 

The researchers used the sensory-based food education method Sapere, which makes use of children's natural way of relying on all of the five senses when learning new things: by looking at, smelling, tasting, touching and listening to new things. In the Sapere method, children are given an active role around food, and they are encouraged to share their sensory experiences. Sensory-based food education is well-suited to the everyday life of kindergartners, where children eat several meals every day and participate in pedagogically oriented group activities.

Kindergartens, the study reports, 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 analyze their willingness to choose and eat these food items.

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.

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.

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