Encouraging babies and toddlers to eat healthy food, especially green vegetables, is a universal concern for parents.

Now, research commissioned by 100% organic baby food brand, Ella’s Kitchen, reveals toddlers who use all of their senses to play with vegetables outside of mealtimes are more likely to eat them than those who don’t.

Paul Lindley, Ella’s Dad and founder of Ella’s Kitchen, comments: “Many kids don’t like eating their greens and often refuse them, leaving parents wondering if their child is missing out on important nutrients. Many find it difficult to get their little ones to enjoy their vegetables. At Ella’s Kitchen, we’re passionate about helping babies and toddlers eat healthier food while making it easier and fun for parents too.

Ella’s Kitchen partnered with the University of Reading, one of the world’s leading universities for research, to explore the motivation behind healthy eating in toddlers.

“The study found that toddlers who experienced new vegetables through sight, smell, sound and touch before tasting were more willing to try them. This is particularly important as previous research has shown that children need to try a new or initially disliked food up 15 times[1] before liking it. However 80 per cent of parents give up after just three or four attempts[2] , showing the need for new tactics to help parents persevere.” Australian studies have shown that once children become obese they are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and have an increased risk of developing both short and long-term health conditions[3].

The study found that children who had taken part in these sense-base activities in a play setting tasted significantly more of the vegetables they had been exposed to than a control group in a meal-time context. Engaging children through sight, smell and touch of vegetables or singing a song and hearing a story about a food worked to build familiarity and increase acceptance.

“While there’s plenty of information on encouraging babies to eat healthily, it’s not always easy to put into practice. Ella’s Kitchen helps parents introduce their babies to healthy eating habits, which can last a lifetime. Based on the research we found that hearing was the hardest sense to tap into, so we recorded our own lyrics to well-known nursery rhymes – sung by UK pop artist Rachel Stevens – on an album called Tasty Tunes, to help parents stimulate their babies’ sense of sound,” Paul says. Ella’s Kitchen also created fun activity sheets for the senses, a range of fun games and colourful activities; all engaging resources that parents can use with their babies at home to help get them to eat their greens!

Ella’s Kitchen’s range of 100% organic baby food with no additives or preservatives is guided by these very principles. Paul created Ella’s Kitchen when his first child, Ella, was learning to eat solid foods. “I wanted to feed Ella food that was not only nutritious, but also tasty and fun as it was important to me that she learned to like foods that were good for her, as I knew that would result in life-long healthy eating habits. The key was engaging all five senses, not just focusing on texture or taste. That’s why our 100 per cent organic baby food is packaged in bright, colourful, squeezy pouches that children love to grab and squish and our products have fun names for kids such as the Red One!”

Ella’s Explorers – Feed Our Senses Tasty Tunes are available as free downloads at ellaskitchen.co.uk/stuff-for-the-senses/tasty-tunes/

Ella’s Explorers – Feed Our Senses activity sheets are available as free downloads at ellaskitchen.co.uk/stuff-for-the-senses/activity-sheets/

Ella’s Kitchen’s fun activities for the senses!

Sounds Good – Wake ‘n Shake
Making sounds using musical instruments and rattles is a great way of engaging babies and toddlers with their sense of hearing. Making your own sound shakers is fun and easy. Simply recycle plastic bottles of different shapes and sizes make sure they all have tight-fitting lids. Grab a handful of dried foods – try lentils, pasta shapes or rice. Tighten up the lids so the food can’t escape, then let the noise begin! Help those little ears hear the different kinds of sounds that foods make when you give them a shake.

A Touch of Fun – Squish Squash
These activities are designed to help your little one interact with a range of different objects and textures, helping them to feel more confident when they are offered yummy foods of differing textures.

Make a selection of squishy bags for your little ones to explore. To make your own squishy bags, grab some ziplock freezer bags and put things inside for your little one to feel. Some good examples are:

  • Pasta (dried or cooked)
  • Chopped-up spongy mushrooms
  • Juicy berries
  • Different-sized buttons
  • Soft cotton wool balls.

Remember to include a selection of textures for your baby or toddler to feel. Make sure the bags are tightly closed and don’t let little ones get hold of the items inside. For those little ones eating finger foods, bring back some of the items they have played with in the squishy bags at mealtimes and encourage them to touch, or taste them again.

Sniffing Things Out – Scented Sponges
A great way to introduce little noses to new smells is by using scented sponges. Grab a few brand new bathroom sponges (make sure they are safe and non-toxic) and cut them into squares, about the size of your palm. Gather together lots of different smelling liquids such as vanilla essence, lemon juice, orange juice and cranberry juice.

Dip the pieces of sponge into the liquids, one sponge per liquid, and leave them to dry for a few minutes. Share these yummy-smelling sponges with your little one, sit them in their high chair and put the sponges on their tray. Sniff the sponges and show your baby or toddler how to use their little nose too. See which sponges they like and which they don’t.

Remember to watch their little hands with the sponges to make sure they don’t go near their little mouths!

Taste Buddies – Touching Tasty Treats
A great way of encouraging babies and toddlers to accept new tastes is to provide a selection of different foods that they can touch and feel before tasting, as they’ll naturally want to put their fingers in their mouths.

For babies eating purees or mashed foods, sit them in their high chair and put a ‘blob’ of puree or mashed food onto their tray. You could start with just one and then add a few different types of puree in stages. It only needs to be a small amount, as this is all about experiencing taste rather than eating!

Babies and toddlers learn from mimicking those around them, so show them how much fun it is by dipping your finger in one of the purees and then licking it off. Yum! Allow your little one to touch and play with the purees and see if they taste the puree from their fingers. There may be one flavour that they keep going back to, or they may enjoy the mixture of tastes!

Seeing is Believing – Colour Snap
Colour is an important part of the eating experience. Make some coloured cards and find fruits or vegetables of the same colour. Play a matching game to see if your little one can match the cards to the same coloured fruit or vegetable.

Lots of praise will make the game even more fun and get them playing with the different foods. Once they’ve seen how much fun these foods can be, why not offer them some at snack-time?


About Ella’s Kitchen
Ella’s Kitchen’s vision is to help babies and toddlers eat healthier food and help develop healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.  Set up six years ago by Ella’s Dad Paul Lindley, the company has always prioritised health and nutritional value, but never at the expense of taste or convenience.  Ella’s Kitchen strive to be Good in Every Sense, offering healthy, handy and fun food that doesn’t cost the earth. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 Ella’s Kitchen was ranked in the top 25 fastest growing private companies in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100, and in June 2010 was voted the Best Food and Drink Brand in the 2010 Grocer Gold Awards, beating Hovis, Walkers, Doritos and Cadburys.  The brand launched in Scandinavia and the US in 2009 and in 2011 every second of every day someone around the world is eating an Ella’s product.

[1] Birch, L. 1999. Development of food preferences. Annual Review of Nutrition 19:41-62.

[2] Carruth B, Ziegler P, Gordin A. & Barr S. 2004. Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food. Journal of American Dietetic Association 104: s54-s64.

  • It can be tricky to find food your kids will eat that are also healthy. It was a constant battle in my home


  • It’ s so important children enjoy their veggies.


  • cheers for another great article. awesome job again. for sure.


  • A very interesting article. great insight.


  • Great article.


  • so essentially we need to let our kids play with their food – that’s nice to say when they’re not the ones cleaning it up! LOL


  • sometimes I think we forget that learning about food should be fun too


  • Thanks for the information, some really great ideas.


  • I love all of these ideas, they are so easy and economical to make,


  • Good read thanks for the information


  • A nice mix of ideas


  • thank you for sharing, it’s a good article.


  • thank you sharing this article good read


  • Try, try and try again seems to be the way to go. Of course, veggies smothered in cheese and tomato ketchup always go down a treat!


  • Very interesting and so true see mum playing with your food is not such a bad thing after all


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