Research: Six-year-olds are the toughest food critics

Thursday, 04 July, 2024

Research: Six-year-olds are the toughest food critics

A study from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food Science has discovered that at the age of six, children prefer to avoid crunch in their peanut butter, berries in jam and pieces of fruit in yoghurt — a fact that parents of youngsters might also have some insight on!

In the study, researchers asked 485 Aussie children between the ages of five and 12 to choose between six different foods with and without lumps, seeds and pieces of fruit in them. The foods were bread, orange juice, peanut butter, strawberry jam, yogurt and tomato soup. The researchers showed children drawings of these foods both with and without lumps, and then asked them to choose between them.

In 76% of the instances, six-year-olds opted for foods without lumps — the highest preference rate observed across the age groups.

Dr Ching Yue Chow, first author of the study, said: “The fact that children in general are not happy with too many lumps in food is probably something many people can recognise, but this is the first time that a scientific study has linked a specific age group, namely six-year-olds, so clearly to this food preference.”

To get answers that were as precise as possible, the researchers used real foods to test how consistent children were in answering these questions in other studies.

Protection against dangerous foods

According to Yue Chow, there may be an explanation for why children’s fear of complex texture in food peaks around the age of six.

“Food neophobia is often described as the reluctance to eat new or unfamiliar foods. It is thought to be a protective function to prevent children from eating potentially poisonous foods or other dangerous things when they start to become more independent. Studies have reported that food neophobia starts from a low baseline at weaning. It increases sharply as a child becomes more mobile and independent, reaching a peak at around 6 or 7 years old.

“As such, it makes sense that this particular group in our study does not like too many lumps in food, as it is at this age that they are most cautious when it comes to food,” Yue Chow said.

New dishes may need to be introduced 8–15 times

“A lot of research on children and foods shows that repeated exposures to new dishes have a positive effect on whether they’ll bother eating them. Specifically, it is about giving children the opportunity to taste new food while there is something on the plate that they already know. Often they need to be presented with the new dish 8–15 times before they develop preference for it, but persistence pays off,” Yue Chow said.

The new research results shed more light on the food preferences of children between the ages of five and 12, which the researcher hopes can make parents and the food industry wiser about our relationships with food.

“I hope that our study can serve as an inspiration to parents and those who develop new food products,” Yue Chow said.

Read the full findings in The Journal of Texture Studies

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