A new program from CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, is using science to encourage primary school kids to eat more veggies.

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

Using activities shown to improve kids’ willingness to eat vegetables, the free program, Taste & Learn, provides primary school teachers with simple, hands-on lesson plans aligned with the Australian curriculum.

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

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

"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 fun 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. 

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 over 1600 students and 116 educators across 25 primary schools in New South Wales and South Australia.

This study demonstrated the efficacy of Taste & Learn to increase students' willingness to eat vegetables.

Natalie Baggio, primary school teacher from St Leonards Primary School in Adelaide, taught the program to her Year 3 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.

"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.

Jemma O'Hanlon, dietitian and R&D manager with Hort Innovation said the program had been developed in partnership with the CSIRO with funding by Hort Innovation, using the vegetable industry research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.

"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."

Primary schools can download the Taste & Learn resources today at research.csiro.au/taste-and-learn and start teaching when ready.

With many parents being teachers for the immediate future, they can also download materials.

Fast facts

  • Humans are born to like sweet foods and dislike bitter foods and the properties of vegetables do not align very well to being liked from an early age. Many of our food preferences are learned in childhood and teaching kids to enjoy vegetables has lifelong benefits.
  • Research shows that the key ways to get kids to enjoy vegetables are repeatedly offering a variety, to make veggies fun in a positive, interactive environment, and to de-emphasise health messages.
  • A recently published CSIRO study shows that the Taste & Learn program increases children's knowledge of vegetables and the senses, their ability to verbalise their sensations, vegetable acceptance, intentions and willingness to eat vegetables as well as number of new vegetables tried.
  • Parents take heart! CSIRO research shows that persevering with offering small amounts of at least three vegetables to kids at the dinner table increases their overall vegetable intake.
  • CSIRO's new vegetable education program for primary schools, Taste & Learn, is aligned to the Australian curriculum, free of charge and provides teachers with scientifically backed, hands-on lesson plans that get kids tasting up to 24 vegetables.

Primary schools can download the free Taste & Learn resources at research.csiro.au/taste-and-learn and start teaching when ready.

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Images

  • Two scientists stand in front of children eating vegetables

    CSIRO's Dr Janne Beelen and Maeva Broch are part of the Taste & Learn project team.  ©Department of Social Services

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  • Children eat vegetables

    CSIRO's Taste & Learn program teaches kids to like vegetables.

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