Learning to eat healthily is not always easy. However, eating behaviour can more easily be directed at an early age. It is important that the social and physical living environment contribute to learning healthy eating patterns. Nurseries and primary schools are important settings that could play a key role in learning healthy eating patterns. In addition, the neighbourhood where children live could encourage learning healthy eating patterns.
Nurseries are an ideal setting to stimulate fruit and vegetable consumption in children at a young age. Nurseries have a high reach, an educational/pedagogical environment and the role model function from employees and other children. Previous studies have shown that repeated offering can enhance fruit and vegetable consumption. There are also indications that ‘playing with food’, helping with cooking or helping in growing vegetables, could stimulate fruit and vegetable consumption in children. However, there are few practical methods available specifically tailored for nurseries. The Louis Bolk Institute investigates, together with Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, nurseries, growers, suppliers and other stakeholders, which practical methods are available for nurseries and could work best in their day-to-day practice. We scientifically evaluate how these interventions to enhance fruit and vegetable consumption in nurseries are implemented to develop more insight into acceptation, conditions and possible adjustments for sustainable embedding of the methods in the nurseries. This is how we gain more insight into new, practical scientific insights about the impact of the interventions, which in return we feed back into practice.
Primary schools are another important setting where healthy eating patterns can be stimulated. Schools are a place where children from different backgrounds spend a substantial part of their time and where children are provided with knowledge and skills. In addition, teachers could be powerful role models for children. This makes primary schools and ideal environment for nutritional education and offering healthy foods.
Moreover, in special needs education attention for healthy eating patterns is even more important, as the number of children with overweight or obesity is much higher compared with regular schools. For this vulnerable group, bespoke nutritional education programmes for special needs education are essential. However, thus far only very few bespoke nutritional education programmes for special needs education are available.
The living environment in the neighbourhoods of children is another promising setting to stimulate healthy eating behaviour in children. This includes both the social environment as well the physical environment. Especially in more deprived areas parents and/or caretakers may struggle to provide home based healthy eating patterns for their children.