Play with Your Fruit! How Sensory Play Can Make Toddlers Like Fruit More
Young children often refuse to eat fruits and veggies – highly frustrating for parents. According to a study in Appetite, help is at hand. The study shows that encouraging toddlers to play with their fruit before tasting it (sensory play) can make them like fruit more.
- Toddlers’ who are encouraged to play with their fruits before tasting it (sensory play), like fruits more.
- Interestingly, sensory play with nonfoods, such as sand, can also increase toddlers’ liking of fruits.
- For healthcare and intervention developers, it’s useful to know that sensory play can lead to greater acceptance and enjoyment of eating fruits.
Can toddlers’ enjoyment of eating fruits be increased by sensory play?
83 1- to 4-year-olds (mean age: 2 years old; 54% girls)
Midlands area of the United Kingdom
The children participated in a five week training. They were divided into four groups, each with different tasks:
- Fruit sensory play group. The children in this group performed five different fruit sensory play tasks (one each week). For example, blueberries were presented in a bowl and children were asked to pretend as if they were a ladybird by putting some spots on themselves with blueberries. In each week the task contained a different fruit (i.e., blueberries, prunes, raspberries, passion fruit and melon) and afterwards a fruit tasting for that particular fruit occurred. Both the parent and researcher rated how much the child enjoyed eating the fruit. On top of that, the children also engaged in five non-food sensory tasks (also one each week). For example, sand was presented in a bowl and children were asked to find the buried treasure (hidden coins) by digging it out.
- Non-food sensory play group. The children in this group only performed the five different non-food sensory tasks (one each week) as the ones in the fruit sensory play group. In addition, they also had the same fruit tastings afterwards.
- Fruit taste group. In this group, the children only performed the fruit tastings each week.
- Non-sensory play group. The children in this group played five different games (one each week) without any fruit tastings. For example, a shape sorting game or a block building game.
After the five training weeks a fruit test was conducted again, this time with other types of fruits. Children were offered three different fruits: one familiar (banana), one known from the training (raspberry), and one unfamiliar fruit (fresh lychee). Both the parent and researcher rated how much the child liked the fruit.
Facts and findings
- Children in the fruit sensory play group liked the fruits more after the training than children in the non-sensory play group.
- Interestingly, the same increase in fruit liking was found among children in the sensory play group with non-foods.
- Moreover, the more children liked engaging in the sensory play tasks (with fruits and/or non-food), the more they enjoyed eating the fruits.
- Fun fact: Children liked playing with non-food substances (such as sand) more than playing with fruits. According to the researchers, this may possibly have to do with the rules taught by parent not to play with foods.