Skip to main content

Sensory-based food education in early childhood education and care, willingness to choose and eat fruit and vegetables, and the moderating role of maternal education and food neophobia

  • Kaisa Kähkönen (a1), Anna Rönkä (a2), Mika Hujo (a3), Arja Lyytikäinen (a4) and Outi Nuutinen (a1)...

To investigate the association between sensory-based food education implemented in early childhood education and care (ECEC) centres and children’s willingness to choose and eat vegetables, berries and fruit, and whether the mother’s education level and children’s food neophobia moderate the linkage.


The cross-sectional study involved six ECEC centres that provide sensory-based food education and three reference centres. A snack buffet containing eleven different vegetables, berries and fruit was used to assess children’s willingness to choose and eat the food items. The children’s parents completed the Food Neophobia Scale questionnaire to assess their children’s food neophobia.


ECEC centres that provide sensory-based food education and reference ECEC centres in Finland.


Children aged 3–5 years in ECEC (n 130) and their parents.


Sensory-based food education was associated with children’s willingness to choose and eat vegetables, berries and fruit. This association was stronger among the children of mothers with a low education level. A high average level of neophobia in the child group reduced the children’s willingness to choose vegetables, berries and fruit. No similar tendency was observed in the group that had received sensory-based food education. Children’s individual food neophobia had a negative association with their willingness to choose and eat the vegetables, berries and fruit.


Child-oriented sensory-based food education seems to provide a promising method for promoting children’s adoption of vegetables, berries and fruit in their diets. In future sensory food education research, more focus should be placed on the effects of the education at the group level.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Email
Hide All
1. Kyttälä, P, Erkkola, M, Kronberg-Kippilä, C et al. (2010) Food consumption and nutrient intake in Finnish 1–6-year-old children. Public Health Nutr 13, 947956.
2. Talvia, S, Räsänen, L, Lagström, H et al. (2006) Longitudinal trends in consumption of vegetables and fruit in Finnish children in an atherosclerosis prevention study (STRIP). Eur J Clin Nutr 60, 172180.
3. Lynch, C, Kristjansdottir, AG, te Velde, SJ et al. (2013) Fruit and vegetable consumption in a sample of 11-year-old children in ten European countries – the PRO GREENS cross-sectional survey. Public Health Nutr 17, 24362444.
4. Liu, RH (2013) Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Adv Nutr 4, issue 3, 384S392S.
5. Johnson, SL (2016) Developmental and environmental influences on young children’s vegetable preferences and consumption. Adv Nutr 15, issue 1, 220S231S.
6. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2016) Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.
7. Sandell, M, Mikkelsen, BE, Lyytikäinen, A et al. (2016) Future for food education of children. Futures 83, 1523.
8. Puisais, J & Pierre, C (1987) Le goût et l'enfant (Taste and the Child) . Paris: Flammarion.
9. Dazeley, P, Houston-Price, C & Hill, C (2012) Should healthy eating programmes incorporate interaction with foods in different sensory modalities? A review of the evidence. Br J Nutr 108, 769777.
10. Mustonen, S, Rantanen, R & Tuorila, H (2009) Effect of sensory education on school children’s food perception: a 2-year follow-up study. Food Qual Prefer 20, 230240.
11. Jonsson, IM, Ekström, MP & Gustafsson, I (2005) Appetizing learning in Swedish comprehensive schools: an attempt to employ food and tasting in a new form of experimental education. Int J Consum Stud 29, 7885.
12. Mustonen, S & Tuorila, H (2010) Sensory education decreases food neophobia score and encourages trying unfamiliar foods in 8–12-year-old children. Food Qual Prefer 21, 353360.
13. Reverdy, C, Schlich, P, Köster, EP et al. (2010) Effect of sensory education on food preferences in children. Food Qual Prefer 21, 794804.
14. Reverdy, C, Chesnel, F, Schlich, P et al. (2008) Effect of sensory education on willingness to taste novel food in children. Appetite 51, 156165.
15. Battjes-Fries, MC, Haveman-Nies, A, Renes, RJ et al. (2015) Effect of the Dutch school-based education programme ‘Taste Lessons’ on behavioural determinants of taste acceptance and healthy eating: a quasi-experimental study. Public Health Nutr 18, 22312241.
16. Battjes-Fries, MCE, Haveman-Nies, A, Zeinstra, GG et al. (2017) Effectiveness of Taste Lessons with and without additional experiential learning activities on children’s willingness to taste vegetables. Appetite 109, 201208.
17. Coulthard, H & Sealy, A (2017) Play with your food! Sensory play is associated with tasting of fruits and vegetables in preschool children. Appetite 113, 8490.
18. Dazeley, P & Houston-Price, C (2015) Exposure to foods’ non-taste sensory properties. A nursery intervention to increase children's willingness to try fruit and vegetables. Appetite 84, 16.
19. Hoppu, U, Prinz, M, Ojansivu, P et al. (2015) Impact of sensory-based food education in kindergarten on willingness to eat vegetables and berries. Food Nutr Res 59, 287295.
20. Fernandez-Alvira, JM, Bornhorst, C, Bammann, K et al. (2015) Prospective associations between socio-economic status and dietary patterns in European children: the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-induced Health Effects in Children and Infants (IDEFICS) Study. Br J Nutr 113, 517525.
21. Fernández-Alvira, JM, Mouratidou, T, Bammann, K et al. (2013) Parental education and frequency of food consumption in European children: the IDEFICS study. Public Health Nutr 16, 487498.
22. Sausenthaler, S, Kompauer, I, Mielck, A et al. (2007) Impact of parental education and income inequality on children’s food intake. Public Health Nutr 10, 2433.
23. Rehm, CD, Monsivais, P & Drewnowski, A (2015) Relation between diet cost and Healthy Eating Index 2010 scores among adults in the United States 2007–2010. Prev Med 73, 7075.
24. Dovey, TM, Staples, PA, Gibson, EL et al. (2008) Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’ eating in children: a review. Appetite 50, 181193.
25. Lafraire, J, Rioux, C, Giboreau, A et al. (2016) Food rejections in children: cognitive and social/environmental factors involved in food neophobia and picky/fussy eating behavior. Appetite 96, 347357.
26. Pliner, P & Hobden, K (1992) Development of a scale to measure the trait of food neophobia in humans. Appetite 19, 105120.
27. Nicklas, TA, O’Neil, CE, Stuff, J et al. (2012) Validity and feasibility of a digital diet estimation method for use with preschool children: a pilot study. J Nutr Educ Behav 44, 618623.
28. Martin, CK, Newton, RL, Anton, SD et al. (2007) Measurement of children’s food intake with digital photography and the effects of second servings upon food intake. Eat Behav 8, 148156.
29. Perez-Rodrigo, C, Artiach Escauriaza, B, Artiach Escauriaza, J et al. (2015) Dietary assessment in children and adolescents: issues and recommendations. Nutr Hosp 31, Suppl. 3, 7683.
30. Ojansivu, P, Sandell, M, Lagström, H et al. (2014) Lasten ruokakasvatus varhaiskasvatuksessa(Food Education in Early Childhood Education). Publications of the Child and Youth Research Institute no. 8/2014. Turku: Child and Youth Research Institute.
31. Koistinen, A & Ruhanen, L (editors) (2009) Aistien avulla ruokamaailmaan. Sapere-menetelmä päivähoidon ravitsemus- ja ruokakasvatuksen tukena (Handbook for Sapere Method in Early Childhood Education and Care). Helsinki: Sitra, Suomen itsenäisyyden juhlarahasto.
32. Bouhlal, S, Issanchou, S, Chabanet, C et al. (2014) ‘Just a pinch of salt’. An experimental comparison of the effect of repeated exposure and flavor–flavor learning with salt or spice on vegetable acceptance in toddlers. Appetite 83, 209217.
33. Gemming, L, Utter, J & Ni Mhurchu, C (2015) Image-assisted dietary assessment: a systematic review of the evidence. J Acad Nutr Diet 115, 6477.
34. Pinheiro, J, Bates, D, DebRoy, S et al. (2013) Nlme: linear and nonlinear mixed effects models. R package version 3.1-111. (accessed April 2018).
35. Lehto, E, Ray, C, te Velde, S et al. (2015) Mediation of parental educational level on fruit and vegetable intake among schoolchildren in ten European countries. Public Health Nutr 18, 8999.
36. Cook, LT, O’Reilly, GA, DeRosa, CJ et al. (2015) Association between home availability and vegetable consumption in youth: a review. Public Health Nutr 18, 640648.
37. Sylva, K, Melhuish, E, Sammons, P et al. (2004) The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Final Report. A Longitudinal Study Funded by the DfES 1997–2004. London: The Institute of Education.
38. Cooke, L, Wardle, J & Gibson, EL (2003) Relationship between parental report of food neophobia and everyday food consumption in 2–6-year-old children. Appetite 41, 205206.
39. Cooke, L, Carnell, S & Wardle, J (2006) Food neophobia and mealtime food consumption in 4–5 year old children. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 3, 14.
40. Johnson, SL, Davies, PL, Boles, RE et al. (2015) Young children’s food neophobia characteristics and sensory behaviors are related to their food intake. J Nutr 145, 26102616.
41. Park, BK & Cho, MS (2016) Taste education reduces food neophobia and increases willingness to try novel foods in school children. Nutr Res Pract 10, 221228.
42. Woo, T & Lee, KH (2013) Effects of sensory education based on classroom activities for lower grade school children. Nutr Res Pract 7, 336341.
43. Greenhalgh, J, Dowey, AJ, Horne, PJ et al. (2009) Positive- and negative peer modelling effects on young children’s consumption of novel blue foods. Appetite 52, 646653.
44. Birch, LL (1980) Effects of peer model’s food choices and eating behaviors on preschooler’s food preferences. Child Dev 51, 489496.
45. Laureati, M, Bergamaschi, V & Pagliarini, E (2014) School-based intervention with children. Peer-modeling, reward and repeated exposure reduce food neophobia and increase liking of fruits and vegetables. Appetite 83, 2632.
46. Sepp, H & Hoijer, K (2016) Food as a tool for learning in everyday activities at preschool – an exploratory study from Sweden. Food Nutr Res 60, 32603.
47. Kelder, SH, Perry, CL, Klepp, K et al. (1994) Longitudinal tracking of adolescent smoking, physical activity, and food choice behaviors. Am J Public Health 84, 11211126.
48. Wadhera, D, Phillips, EDC, Wilkie, LM et al. (2015) Perceived recollection of frequent exposure to foods in childhood is associated with adulthood liking. Appetite 89, 2232.
49. Dinnella, C, Morizet, D, Masi, C et al. (2016) Sensory determinants of stated liking for vegetable names and actual liking for canned vegetables: a cross-country study among European adolescents. Appetite 107, 339347.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Public Health Nutrition
  • ISSN: 1368-9800
  • EISSN: 1475-2727
  • URL: /core/journals/public-health-nutrition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed