With only six per cent of primary school-aged children consuming the daily recommended amount of vegetables, CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, is using science to encourage primary school kids to eat more veggies.

Using activities shown to improve kids’ willingness to eat vegetables, the free program, Taste & Learn, consists of simple, hands-on lesson plans aligned with the Australian primary school 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. For parents despairing about their child’s vegetable intake, the good news is that 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 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. 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.

“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 Astrid 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 Astrid said. “It might seem counterintuitive to adults but avoiding explicit health messages works better with kids.”

Read: How to cook these vegetables perfectly—regardless how much time you have (or don’t)

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 Astrid and her team co-developed and tested the program with more than 1600 students and 116 educators across 25 primary schools in New South Wales and South Australia. By the end of the program, it found that Taste & Learn increased 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 the number of new vegetables tried.

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,” Natalie said.

While the program is aimed at primary schools, with many parents being teachers for the immediate future, they can also download the materials for free.

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