The importance of nutrition lessons and the way to enable children to engage with the subject of nutrition has been highlighted by researchers at the University of Stanford.
The team concluded that children voluntarily eat more vegetables if they are aware of why their bodies need different foods. The researchers believed that “people often assume that explanations of complex, abstract concepts will be too confusing for young children” but that children can understand a conceptual approach to nutrition.
The study also emphasised the importance of natural curiosity and the tendency of children to question how things work.
Doubled vegetable intake
Psychologists Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman created five storybooks to highlight the important areas of nutrition; covering “the importance of variety, how digestion works, the different food groups, characteristics of nutrients, and how nutrients help the body function”.
These were then each read during snack time to one set of children, aged 4-5, who then more than doubled their vegetable intake. The voluntary intake of children who had not heard the storybooks at the school did not change, suggesting the reading really did make a difference. The children’s awareness of both nutrition and digestion also increased following this, suggesting they had a greater understanding that could perhaps be applied further.
The researchers explained that they clarified to “children why their body needs different kinds of healthy food. We did not train children to eat more vegetables specifically," meaning the approach is not limited to one issue. They believe more research could discover whether these gains in healthy eating would translate to other mealtimes, including at home, as well as whether they would last.