Food and Behaviour Research

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Peas, please! Food familiarization through picture books helps parents introduce vegetables into preschoolers’ diets

Owen L, Kennedy O, Hill C, Houston-Price C (2020) Appetite Volume 128, 1 September 2018, Pages 32-43 DOI:10.1016/j.appet.2018.05.140 

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Repeated taste exposure is an established means of increasing children's liking and intake of fruit and vegetables. However, parents find it difficult to offer children disliked foods repeatedly, often giving up after a few attempts. Studies show that familiarizing children to fruit and vegetables through picture books can increase their interest in tasting targeted foods. This study explored whether looking at picture books before providing foods to taste improved the outcomes of a home-delivered taste exposure regime. Parents of 127 toddlers (aged 21–24 months) identified two ‘target’ foods they wanted their child to eat (1 fruit, 1 vegetable). Families were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Parents and children in two experimental groups looked at books about either the target fruit or vegetable every day for two weeks; the control group did not receive a book. Parents in all three groups were then asked to offer their child both target foods every day during a 2-week taste-exposure phase. Parental ratings of children's liking and consumption of the foods were collected at baseline, immediately following taste-exposure (post-intervention), and 3 months later (follow-up). In all groups, liking of both foods increased following taste exposure and remained above baseline at follow-up (all ps < .001). In addition, compared to the control group who experienced only taste exposure, looking at vegetable books enhanced children's liking of their target vegetable post-intervention (p < .001) and at follow-up (p < .05), and increased consumption of the vegetable at follow-up (p < .01). Exposure to vegetable books was also associated with smaller increases in neophobia and food fussiness over the period of the study compared to controls (ps < .01), suggesting that picture books may have positive, long-term impacts on children's attitudes towards new foods.