Jackie Blissett, Gill Harris and Suzanne Higgs have been awarded a £50K Feeding For Life Foundation grant towards a project examining the effectiveness of specific ways in which parents may increase the success of introducing new foods to their 2-3 year olds. The food preferences that develop during childhood are relatively stable and affect food choices in adulthood. However, the introduction of healthy foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, into toddler’s diets is difficult for many families. Whether a child consumes any or sufficient fruits and vegetables is determined by a complex interaction between factors such as genetically determined preference, neophobia (fear of trying new foods), sensory sensitivity, parental feeding practices during infancy and childhood, parental preferences, the accessibility and availability of fruits and vegetables and the child’s social environment. However, little is known about the mechanisms by which parental practices might increase or decrease children’s willingness to try novel fruits or vegetables.

The project team will begin recruitment of 120 parents of 2-3 year old toddlers in the New Year, who will be invited to the University of Birmingham Infant and Child Laboratory, our child friendly, specially designed facility for unobtrusive observation of parent-child interaction. The team will be examining how the use of physical prompting to consume a new food is related to young children’s willingness to try foods. They will also examine whether the child’s sensory characteristics moderate the relationship between parental practice and NF taste exposure outcomes, because it may be the case that different strategies are effective for very sensitive children compared to children who are less sensitive. One deliverable outcome of this project will be better information for health practitioners regarding best practice in parental behaviours that may aid the introduction of novel, healthy foods to toddlers.