Taste Lessons, a school-based nutrition education programme about taste, healthy eating behaviour and food quality for primary schools

School-based nutrition education is promising to improve children’s healthy eating behaviour, especially when experiential learning methods are used and parents are involved. Taste Lessons (Smaaklessen) is a Dutch nutrition education programme for primary schools, aiming to raise children’s interest in taste, health and food quality by providing experiences with taste and food in a positive and playful way.

Healthy nutrition in early childhood is important for the growth and development of the child, and to prevent overweight and chronic diseases later in life such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The elementary school is an important place to reach children of 4-12 years old of diverse socio-economic groups as they spend a substantial amount of time within school per week. Moreover, school provides an educative learning environment in which children acquire knowledge and skills, and learn favourable attitudes and behaviour. Literature shows that providing healthy nutrition at schools and get children acquainted with the taste, and production and preparation of food products may result in making healthier food choices later in life.

Taste Lessons (Smaaklessen) is national nutrition education programmes for Dutch primary schools, developed in 2006 by the Netherlands Nutrition Centre and Wageningen University for grades 1-8 of elementary schools (children of 4-12 years old). The programme is designed from the idea that teaching children about conscious and healthy eating behaviour in a playful way might be more effective than providing children with information in a more theoretical way. The aim of the programme is to increase children’s taste acceptance, knowledge about and interest in food and nutrition, in order to establish healthy and conscious eating behaviour on later age.

Two studies are conducted to investigate the effect of Taste Lessons. In 2011/2012 a study was conducted to assess the effect of the programme consisting of 10-12 lessons, on children’s psychosocial determinants of tasting unfamiliar foods and eating healthy and a variety of foods. In a quasi-experimental study design among 1183 children (9-12 years old) of 21 elementary schools, children and their teachers filled out a questionnaire at baseline, four weeks and six months after the intervention in both an intervention and control group. Results showed that although teachers only implemented on average a third of the programme activities, Taste Lessons was effective in increasing knowledge and several other psychosocial determinants of healthy eating behaviour.

In 2013, the program materials were rearranged into five lessons per grade and Taste Lessons became part of the Food Education Platform. Aim of this platform is to develop a coherent set of lessons and activities for each food group. To pilot additional effectiveness of this extended format, the ‘Taste Lessons Vegetable Menu’ was developed, consisting of the five lessons of Taste Lessons and four additional activities: a vegetable quiz, excursion to a vegetable grower, homework supermarket assignment, and cooking lesson with a dietician and parents. In a quasi-experimental design among 800 children (8-11 years old) of 34 elementary schools, children filled out a questionnaire on (psychosocial determinants of) their vegetable consumption and performed a taste test to assess willingness to taste unfamiliar vegetables during a baseline and follow-up measurement in a Taste Lessons Vegetable Menu, Taste Lessons only, and control group. Results showed that more and stronger effects were found among children exposed to the Taste Lessons Vegetable Menu than Taste Lessons only. These results suggest that experiential learning methods might indeed increase effectiveness of school-based nutrition education programmes.

More research: Prevention of diet-related non-communicable diseases