Development of Children’s Texture Preferences and Perception of Foods: With a Focus on Hardness and Particle Content

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

Food texture plays an important role in the development of children’s food preferences, shaping their current and future food habits critical for optimal growth and overall health. Understanding children’s texture preferences and perception of foods is therefore crucial for supporting healthy eating behaviours, particularly given the tendency of children to reject foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy due to the textures encountered. This PhD research aims to investigate the development of food texture preferences and perception in children aged between 3 and 12, thereby identifying strategies for modifying these preferences.
A forced-choice pictographic questionnaire, featuring drawings of food pairs differing in hardness (hard vs soft) or particle content (with-particle vs no-particle), was developed and validated to assess children’s texture preferences. The tool demonstrated test-retest reliability and validity against behavioural measures of children’s texture preferences. The application of the questionnaire in Denmark and Australia revealed the developmental trajectory of texture preferences across childhood. While no overarching preferences for hard or soft foods were observed, there was a decrease in preferences for hard foods from 3 to 6 years. Children generally preferred foods without particles. Preferences for foods with particles reached the lowest at 6 years and gradually increased with age; these preferences were negatively associated with food neophobia and parental use of restrictive feeding practices, while positively linked to experiences with diverse food textures.
In the investigations of children’s texture perception, it was found that children’s perception of eating difficulty was not influenced by their dentition status, and eating difficulty negatively correlated with children’s liking of food products. Furthermore, children’s ability to perceive and differentiate food particle size in the mouth improved with age. However, this refinement in oral perceptual skills did not correlate with the concurrent development of preferences for foods with particles in general.
The potential of tactile interaction with foods, in the form of sensory food play, was investigated to increase children’s preferences for food with particles. Children who initially exhibited low preferences for such foods and a higher degree of food neophobia demonstrated a significant increase in preferences after participating in a series of tactile play activities, as indicated by the pictographic questionnaire.
This work has introduced a validated method for measuring texture preferences with children and advanced the understanding of children’s texture preferences and perception of foods. The findings hold the potential for collaborative efforts among parents, health practitioners, researchers, and industries to formulate strategies supporting the development of healthy food habits in children.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDepartment of Food Science, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
Number of pages192
Publication statusPublished - 2024

ID: 387266064