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Researchers: Unleash children’s taste

Article A new book disputes the notion that children will only eat sweets and fast food unless you teach them good taste. Instead, the authors recommend to give children the opportunity to develop and use their own taste.

When adults talk with children about food and taste, it is often with an ulterior motive of making the children eat more vegetables. For a number of years, this has also been the case in schools, where teaching in Home Economics has been focused on nutrition rather than individual taste.

These are the claims of pedagogy researchers professor Karen Wistoft and postdoc Jonatan Leer. In a new book, “Mod en smagspædagogik” (“Towards a taste pedagogy”), Wistoft and Leer review existing research on children, taste and education. They propose that we consider taste as a resource for learning and discovery, instead of a barrier that prevents children from understanding the meaning of healthy eating.

The reason to do so is that it is not appropriate to force or lure children to eat in a certain way, says Karen Wistoft, professor at the Danish School of Education at Aarhus University and co-founder of Taste for Life, a Danish research and communication center.

”The method of teaching that makes children eat something specific – typically more vegetables – is often controlled by a manipulative way of thinking. Moreover, it only works briefly,” professor Wistoft states.

The children are capable on their own – if we let them

”We want to teach the children to take a stand, to substantiate and use their taste in their choice making. If children are not aware of the fact that they can use their own taste actively, they get used to being controlled by others. Worst case: They become passive,” she says.

The authors of the book argue, that we should stop controlling the children’s taste, both at home and in school, and instead trust that children themselves are capable of saying yes and no, if they are allowed to develop their own taste.

Experiment with taste and talk about it

”Teachers should do as in the food knowledge subjects of Home Economics, where the children get a knowledge of food and experiment with food and taste,” Karen Wistoft recommends.

”Parents at home should be seriously interested in their children’s taste. What kind of taste experiences do they have, and what do they associate a certain taste with? Talk with them about how they can use their taste to choose what they want to eat. Give them appropriate challenges and let them take part in setting the goal of these challenges.”

The book ”Mod en smagspædagogik”(in Danish) was released Friday 21st of August, 2015, and can be downloaded from this page. The paper "Controlling or Trusting Children - Making Sense of Taste Education" about the book can be downloaded as a pdf from the link on this page.

Mentioned in the article

Professor, Ph.d., Aarhus University

Karen Wistoft is a member of Taste for Life’s management and in charge of the focus area Learning. She has a background in health pedagogy research and now focuses on the elementary school subject, Madkundskab, i.e. food literacy, and the development of new pedagogies and didactics of taste.

Postdoc, PhD

Postdoc, PhD, Aarhus University

Jonatan Leer is part of the focus area Learning. He does research in taste pedagogy and food culture.