Play with your vegetables! Can playful eating utensils increase children's vegetable consumption in shared kindergarten meals?
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Background: Norwegian children’s consumption of vegetables is below recommended levels (Hansen, Andersen, & Myhre, 2017). There has recently been a call for more research on the effect of playing with vegetables on children’s consumption (Coulthard, Williamson, Palfreyman, & Lyttle, 2018). Study aim: The aim is to examine whether playful eating utensils increase children’s vegetable consumption in shared kindergarten meals by experimental testing of three utensils in real-life conditions; two utensils designed to promote play (landscape plate and flexible skewer) and a standard, white plate. In addition, a method for testing familiarity to vegetables directly with children, using picture cards, is developed and tested. Results: The main study included 98 children, aged 4-6 years, and 71 parents. Mean consumption of vegetables per child was 67 grams higher when using the flexible skewer, compared to the white plate (p<.05). The amount of self-served vegetables per child was significantly higher when using the flexible skewer or the landscape plate, compared to the white plate (p<.05), 101 and 65 grams respectively. The amount of leftover vegetables (waste) was higher when using the playful eating utensils, compared to the white plate (p<.10). There were no differences in consumption or self-servings of unfamiliar vegetables between the testing conditions. Conclusion: The study supports previous findings that suggest that play and crafting activities with vegetables can promote children’s consumption. Using a flexible skewer seems like an effective method for increasing immediate consumption of familiar vegetables at group level in a shared kindergarten meal. The number of observations is low, and results must be interpreted with caution. More research is needed to test whether these findings generalize to other playful eating utensils and to examine the effect over time, effects on individual level and effects for children with food neophobia.
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