The Challenge

As they grow up, children start building assumptions towards new food and refuse to eat the ones they are unfamiliar with, based on its texture and appearance. We call this phenomenon food neophobia, and it is mostly common with fruits and vegetables. However, eating from a wide variety of food is essential to have a healthy diet; a positive first experience and repetition are essential for them to accept and enjoy these food. 
How can we make children more open to try and accept new food, and more specifically fruits and vegetables?

The Outcome

Sensing Taste is a set of games aiming to modify children’s perception of food by using all their senses, and thus making the act of eating a playful, multi-sensorial experience. These games aim to make children more open to try food they would normally not want to eat by enhancing their attention on a specific sense and challenging them in a playful way to find the correct answer. The project is designed to be done in group workshops, like in a class or a food workshop after school.

The set consists of three games, focusing on smell, taste and touch. 
The first game is similar to a memory game, in which you need to pair up same cards together, but this time using smells.
The two other games are blindfolded: one is about trying a blend of different vegetables in a liquid form to remove the texture and focus on the taste, and trying to guess the ingredients.
The last one focuses on the different forms a fruit or vegetable can take, showing the variety of textures and flavours you can get from the same ingredient.

The Process

I started off by researching a lot about two fields: children in relation to food, and the education system. On one hand, I wanted to understand the different stages of children’s eating habits from their youngest age. To do so, I contacted some researchers from the INRA (National Institute of Agronomic Research in France), specialised in taste and feeding behaviour of children, and I read many research papers on the subject.
On the other hand, I wanted to know what measures were already taken in schools about food education. I contacted several schools in France and the Netherlands, both public, private and alternative programs (Montessori & Steiner-Waldorf institutes). I found out there was no existing mandatory program in neither of these schools, and only one Montessori school was organising some cooking classes – that’s the closest I got to food education.

Determined there was some work to do there, I decided to focus on schools – it is also the most democratic place as parents’ education is very unequal regarding these topics. I made three games related to food using their senses and asked the schools if I could try them with a class. Following a “Lean” approach, this allowed me to witness directly from the children what was working – or not, in order to fine-tune them along the way.

“Figure 1 : Learning to like a type of food : evolution of the intake amount of two vegetables (one initially liked, the carrot; the other initially little appreciated, e. g. the green bean) after 8 exposures. According to Maier, et al., 2007.”