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Children learn to enjoy new food with Food Friends

As a parent, do mealtimes feel like a battle between you and your children? I hear many parents talking about how their child is a picky eater, and they have a hard time introducing new foods. And how hard can it be to get them out the door and away from the TV? What would it be like if they actually liked trying new foods and being active?

Unfortunately, the prevalence of childhood obesity, even among preschoolers, continues to rise. Research shows that eating and exercise habits are formed early in life. With funding from USDA since 1999, my colleagues and I at Colorado State University developed the Food Friends program with preschoolers aged 3-5 in mind because kids this age are still developing behaviors. By targeting them now, hopefully we can help them develop nutritious habits that will lead to life-long healthy lifestyles.

Food Friends has two components: Fun With New Foods and Get Movin' With Mighty Moves, which have been tested and evaluated in hundreds of Head-Start classrooms over a 10-year period and offer statistically significant, positive results in changing early-childhood behaviors.

The 12-week Fun With New Foods program introduces children to new food choices through play. Children are introduced to fun, familiar food characters (complete with superpowers!) such as Ollie Orange, Tina Tortilla, Corrine Carrot and Bella Bean, who introduce their new friends Gertie Gouda and Rudy D. Radish to the children through activities and stories. Twice each week, the class has the opportunity to taste new foods that have built into the programs activities. At the end of the program, the class undergoes a Super Taster Ceremony, where the children acquire the same superpowers as the characters.

Get Movin' With Mighty Moves uses the Food Friends characters to engage kids, teachers and parents in activity in the classroom and at home. Each week focuses on a skill or group of skills from one of the three gross motor skill categories: locomotor, stability or manipulative. Creatively, each character has Mighty Moves (gross motor skills) as well as superpowers. As the children practice their Mighty Moves, they acquire the same motor skills and superpowers as the Food Friends characters. They use their Mighty Moves and superpowers to help the Food Friends on imaginary musical journeys to places where food is grown, sold or eaten.

Research has shown that children exposed to Food Friends significantly decreased the number of times they refused to eat new foods compared to children in a control group. This means children exposed to the Food Friends program were more willing to try out new foods. We saw evidence of this during the program as well, as children increased behavior such as smelling and swallowing new food and a decrease in playing with food and spitting it back out.

Children who participated in Mighty Moves did see significant increases in gross motor abilities and physical fitness when compared to the control group. However, age and weight status were contributing factors to how children performed motor skills and fitness tests. Three-year olds and children of normal weight had more significant changes than five-year olds and children classified by CDC as at-risk for overweight or overweight.

The Food Friends program has been implemented in 12 states, Canada and Australia. Our kits are tailored to be used in the classroom or at home with parents or childcare givers. The success of these programs has shown to develop healthy habits in preschool children - habits that serve as the foundation to building healthy lifestyles. If you would like more information about how to order a kit or start implementing the program in your state, please contact us at