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How to deal with picky eaters? Make them play with food: Research

Posted:  Tuesday, May 26, 2015

As parents, teaching table manners to your children can prove to be a tough task. However, a new research may stir you up to encourage your child’s messy eating and food playing habits. European researchers have found that when kids play with food, it helps them overcome the fear of trying out new flavours and new foods, a trait termed food neophobia.

The researchers asked a group of 70 children aged 2 to 5 years to search for a toy soldier buried in a bowl of messy slimy food such as mashed potatoes and jelly. The parents and researchers observed if the children were comfortable to use their hands to search for the toy. Sceptical children were given a spoon.

Parents and researchers then rated the children on the basis of how happy the children were to get their hands dirty on a scale of 1 to 5. Children could score upto 20 points, higher points indicating more enjoyment. The parents also had to answer a questionnaire about the children’s tactile sensitivity - whether they disliked walking barefoot on sand or grass or whether they had an aversion to getting messy. The results of this study were published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The researchers questioned parents about their children’s reluctance to try new foods and how many portions of vegetables and fruits both parents and children ate each day, excluding fruit juices, dried fruits and purees.

The researchers observed that:

•   Kids who liked to play with foods were less likely to have food neophobia or tactile sensitivity.

•   Children ate more portions of fruits and vegetables when their parents ate them too.

"Although this is just an association, the implication is that getting children to play with messy substances may help their food acceptance,” said the study’s lead author. So what if children have food neophobia? The authors reassured that children can be taught to play with food to overcome it. They suggest food art and experimenting with textures, tastes and flavours might just do the trick.

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