CSIRO takes scientific approach to getting kids to eat veggies

CSIRO takes scientific approach to getting kids to eat veggies

Horticulture
EAT UP: The CSIRO is backing science as a means of getting children to eat more vegetables.

EAT UP: The CSIRO is backing science as a means of getting children to eat more vegetables.

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Forget celebrity endorsements; CSIRO reckons it can increase veg intake with science.

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SCIENCE, not colorful cartoon characters, will sway children to eat more vegetables according to the CSIRO.

In fact, avoiding explicit health messages works better with kids, according to the national science agency which has launched a new program to encourage primary school children to eat more vegetables.

The free program, Taste & Learn, provides primary school teachers with hands-on lesson plans aligned with the Australian curriculum.

It is a strategic levy investment using the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund.

It draws on research showing what works best with kids is repeatedly offering a variety of vegetables, objectively describing vegetables, and making vegetables fun.

According to the CSIRO, only six per cent of primary school aged children consume the recommended amount of vegetables.

CSIRO's Dr Astrid Poelman, a sensory and consumer scientist, said Taste & Learn was based on research over many years into why humans like the foods they do like, including vegetables.

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"Luckily, liking and eating vegetables is a learned behaviour. Research shows the number one way to get kids to enjoy vegetables is to repeatedly offer a variety of them," Dr Poelman said.

"Making veggies fun in a positive, interactive environment is also critical."

With the Taste & Learn program, children get to explore vegetables and all their senses through activities and science experiments.

"The program encourages them to become 'food adventurers'," Dr Poelman said.

"It might seem counter-intuitive to adults but avoiding explicit health messages works better with kids."

Set over five weeks, the Taste & Learn program supports student academic learning by boosting literacy and science skills, amongst others.

TASTY: CSIRO's Taste & Learn program is aimed at teaching children to like vegetables.

TASTY: CSIRO's Taste & Learn program is aimed at teaching children to like vegetables.

They learn to describe vegetables in an objective way, such as what their texture, colour or flavour is like, which helps children understand what they like or don't like about the veggies they're eating.

Dr Poelman and her team co-developed and tested the program with more than 1600 students and 116 educators across 25 primary schools in NSW and South Australia.

The study demonstrated the efficacy of Taste & Learn to increase student's willingness to eat vegetables.

Ausveg has given its thumbs-up to the program, encouraging educators and primary school teachers to take advantage of the resources.

Ausveg deputy chair, Belinda Adams, a leafy vegetable grower from the Gold Coast and former primary school teacher, said that Taste & Learn will be an important program to help encourage children to want to eat more vegetables and to equip teachers with the resources to teach kids about their vegetables.

"Educating children about vegetables and encouraging them to want to eat more is critical to improving the health and wellbeing of our children," Ms Adams said.

POOR: According to the CSIRO, only six per cent of primary school aged children consume the recommended amount of vegetables. Photo: Shutterstock

POOR: According to the CSIRO, only six per cent of primary school aged children consume the recommended amount of vegetables. Photo: Shutterstock

"A vegetable-rich diet in childhood has been proven time and time again to improve physical and physiological development in children and can be a strong influence in dietary choices as they move into adulthood."

"If we can teach our children and students to eat a variety of vegetables and appreciate the taste and texture of different vegetables, then we can dramatically improve the health outcomes of the Australian population well into the future.

"Vegetable growers are deeply passionate about producing high quality vegetables and are extremely proud of the work that goes into growing the produce that makes its way to consumers.

Teacher tested

ST Leonards Primary School primary school teacher, Natalie Baggio, Adelaide, taught the program to her year three students.

"I think it's definitely very easy to pick up and run with. Everything was prepared for you besides going to buy the produce, which was easy," Mrs Baggio said.

EAT UP: CSIRO's Dr Janne Beelen and Maeva Broch are part of the Taste & Learn project team.

EAT UP: CSIRO's Dr Janne Beelen and Maeva Broch are part of the Taste & Learn project team.

"The program has clear links to the achievement standards of the Australian Curriculum and the kids really enjoyed having talk time, testing time and tasting time."

Mrs Baggio said there have also been real flow-on effects of the program and it has been a catalyst for change in the school, launching community involvement in the establishment of a school garden, which provides vegetables for the school canteen.

Hort Innovation dietitian and R&D manager, Jemma O'Hanlon, said the program had been developed with support from the vegetable industry.

"Teaching kids to enjoy vegetables has lifelong benefits and engaging children at a young age is key," Ms O'Hanlon said.

"This new program is a game changer - and it's backed by science."

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