Can Picture Books Make Your Child a Less Picky Eater?
Trying to get your little one to try an unfamiliar food or a food that they dislike can be extremely difficult (trust us, we’ve been there!). However, and you may have heard this stat before, it takes most children 8-15 tries to accept an unfamiliar food (Birch, 1982). Expert speech pathologist, Hildy Lipner, says acceptance can take over 20 times for some children!!! So, what can we do? Is there a way to make mealtime more enjoyable both for your little one and for you, and help your LO accept a new food with fewer tries? (Hildy always says: “New means no,” so be kind to yourself, this stuff is difficult!) We’re always on the lookout for new strategies to combat picky eating and were really excited to come across a recent study by the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading, titled: Peas, please! Food familiarization through picture books helps parents introduce vegetables into preschoolers’ diets. The main takeaway: Reading picture books may help your child accept an unfamiliar or disliked fruit or vegetable faster.
Now to the scientific part: In the study, 127 parents of children between 21-24 months indicated one fruit and one vegetable that they wanted their little one to eat that their child disliked or was unfamiliar with. The parents were then randomly split into three groups, parents in group one received no picture book, parents in group two received a picture book of the fruit, and parents in group three received a picture book of the vegetable. Parents in the two experimental groups were asked to read the picture book to their child every day for two weeks. Then, all of the 127 parents were asked to feed their child both the fruit and the vegetable every day for 2 weeks. Main takeaway here is that data from both the post-intervention and follow-up shows that the vegetable books have the greatest impact, meaning the children who were read the vegetable books had a higher intake and liking of the vegetable. The follow-up period also showed parents in the experimental groups rated their children as having lower neophobia, a fear of new foods, and food fussiness increases after the 2-week exposure period compared to the parents in the control group. These results may show that there are potential long-term benefits to using picture books as a method of exposing children to new foods!
Bottom Line: Reading your little one a fruit or vegetable picture book during storytime can be an easy way to expose your child to a food that’s new and scary. We have compiled a list of picture books you can read with your child here: 5 Picture Books That Will Help Your Picky Eater
Birch, L. L., & Marlin, D. W. (1982). I don't like it; I never tried it: Eﬀects of exposure on two-year-old children's food preferences. Appetite: Journal for Intake Research, 3, 353–360.
Carruth, B. R., Ziegler, P. J., Gordon, A., & Barr, S. I. (2004). Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers' decisions about oﬀering a new food. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104, 57–64.
Owen, L. H., Kennedy, O. B., Hill, C., & Houston-Price, C. (2018). Peas, please! Food familiarization through picture books helps parents introduce vegetables into preschoolers’ diets. Appetite, 128, 32-43. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.05.140