Children who play games at nursery school involving fruit and vegetables are more likely to develop a taste for their greens and could kick-start a healthier diet late in life, research found. A study of youngsters aged between 12 and 36 months found that the children who were introduced to unusual fruit and vegetables through fun games were almost a third more likely to taste those vegetables over different ones at meal times. The children also touched 66 per cent of the vegetables they had come across during the activities, compared with only 49 per cent of the unfamiliar vegetables. The 92 children, from six nurseries in Berkshire, were asked to take part in activities with unfamiliar foods such as sweet potato, broad beans, rhubarb and pomegranates, every day for four weeks. During tests at meal times it was found that most of the children chose to touch and taste the fruit and vegetables they had come across in the activities, before they considered those they had not seen before. The findings, by researchers at the University of Reading, come after a recent National Diet and Nutrition survey which found that pre-school children eat an average of 74g of vegetables per day - less than one adult portion. In some parts of the UK 40 per cent of pre-school age children eat no vegetables at all, and only one in five children eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, the university said. Dr Carmel Houston-Price, from the university's school of psychology and clinical language sciences, who led the study, said: "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. "But 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 familiarisation 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." Last month a cross-party group of MPs and peers called for the creation of a cabinet-level ministerial role for children, to have responsibility for tackling the potentially "devastating" problem of obesity in youngsters. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on a Fit and Healthy Childhood warned the next government will face a "child obesity epidemic of intractable nature" unless a comprehensive strategy is put in place. A working group report produced by the APPG called for a "whole family" approach to promoting good health, with measures such as encouraging children to spend less time in front of TVs and computers and making it easier for mothers to breastfeed babies rather than use formula milk. Dr Houston-Price added: "Poor diet in childhood is associated with obesity and increases the risk of a range of life-threatening illnesses in later life. Our research could help parents to introduce more vegetables into children's diets, and encourage children to make healthy food choices and actually enjoy eating healthily as they grow older."
This story was published on: 21/11/2014
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