Psychological scientists Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman of Stanford University hypothesized that preschoolers would be capable of understanding a more conceptual approach to nutrition, despite their young age.
They explained that kids have natural curiosity. They want to understand why and how things work. The scientists said that they need to simplify materials for kids, but oversimplification robs them of the opportunity to learn and advance their thinking.
Gripshover and Markman developed five storybooks aimed at revising and elaborating on what children already know about different nutrition-related themes, including dietary variety, digestion, food categories, microscopic nutrients, and nutrients as fuel for biological functions.
The researchers assigned some preschool classrooms to read nutrition books during snack time for about three months, while other classrooms were assigned to conduct snack time as usual. Later, the preschoolers were asked questions about nutrition.
The children who had been read the nutrition books were more likely to understand that food had nutrients, and that different kinds of nutrients were important for various bodily functions. They were also more knowledgeable about digestive processes, understanding, for example, that the stomach breaks down food and blood carries nutrients.
These children also more than doubled their voluntary intake of vegetables during snack time after the three-month intervention, whereas the amount that the control group ate stayed about the same.
The new findings have been published in Psychological Science.