An Oxford professor says high-pitched music accentuates the sweetness in food, making it more palatable to children. Don´t believe us? Keep up reading!
September 7, 2017
Parents of young children know that mealtimes can turn into a horrendous battleground, but it could be worse – you could add the sound of wind chimes into the mix. Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford whose work in multisensory eating has influenced the chef Heston Blumenthal, has found that playing high musical notes can make a child more likely to eat yucky food such as broccoli. “The idea with chirpy music such as wind chimes is that it contains the high-pitched musical notes that have been shown to bring out the sweetness in food that contains a sweet note,” he says, adding that fussy eaters should be encouraged to play with their meal.
Dr. Gemma Witcomb, a lecturer in psychology at Loughborough University and a co-developer of the Child Feeding Guide, says fussiness peaks around 18 to 24 months. “This coincides with a cognitive shift when infants are more aware of their environment and therefore what they are eating,” she says. “Suddenly, everything seems new. Being fearful of new things is evolutionarily adaptive; our ancestors needed to be afraid of new foods so that they didn’t ingest potentially harmful foods.” We have an innate preference for sweet foods, but many vegetables are bitter, “so they take time to learn to like.” Some children are more sensitive to taste than others; some are more sensitive to texture.
What should you do when faced with a broccoli dodger? “It’s easy to say, but keep calm, don’t get anxious and don’t pressure the child,” says Witcomb. “See this as a healthy, developmentally predictable stage and something that will pass as they get used to food. Keep offering foods up to 20 times before you decide that your child doesn’t like it.” She suggests awarding stickers every time your child tries something new (try food in different forms, too – a child may not like cooked carrots, but will eat them raw, grated or in baton form).
Many of us have resorted to threats. Is it helpful to say things such as “If you don’t eat your brussels sprouts, you won’t get pudding”? “No,” says Witcomb. The child may gobble it up, “but research shows that their liking for it will decrease even more as a result of this. Plus, it makes the pudding even more prized”.
The Child Feeding Guide recommends increasing familiarity with different foods by reading books about vegetables, using food in role-playing games and giving children pictures of fruit to color. “Eat what you expect your child to,” says Witcomb. “It’s amazing how often this doesn’t happen. They will quickly work out you aren’t eating that cabbage that you’re forcing them to try.”
Get children involved, too. Let them choose food at the shop, prepare it, measure out ingredients and help set the table – not forgetting the wind chimes, of course.