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Master of Science (M.S.)

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early childhood, vegetable exploration, farm fresh, nutrition education intervention, sensory exploration, Head Start preschool children


The current exploratory study, as part of the Massachusetts Farm Fresh (MAFF) research project: 1) examined the effect sensory attributes (i.e. taste profile, color, shape, texture, growth pattern) of the target vegetables have on children’s willingness to explore and consumption and 2) compared these outcomes for: facilitator-guided (FG), vs. children’s self-guided (SG) exploration.

We conducted a 6-week multi-sensory nutrition education intervention with Western Massachusetts Head Start preschoolers (3-5 years of age; n=94 children) using eight vegetable pairs; outcome measures were recorded by observers. Data were analyzed using SPSS version 20.0. Results are reported for 50 children with complete data at both baseline and follow-up.

Willingness improved from baseline (40-50% of children = SCORE O) to follow-up (20-40% = SCORE 0) for all vegetables. Willingness scores (1) increased for “lower-sugar” vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, green bean, radish) (p=.013) (2) were lower for white vegetables (cauliflower, parsnip) versus the other color categories (red, green, orange) and (3) were higher for both pod (sugar snap peas, green beans) and long-root (carrot, parsnip) versus root vegetables (beet, radish).

Pre-post mean (SE) consumption (g) increased for carrots (p=.013) (2.45+/-.39 vs 3.49+/-.43) and radishes (p=.023) ( .90+/-.22; vs 1.45+/-.29) ). At follow-up consumption of ”higher-sugar” vegetables was greater (p=.000) and carrot-parsnip pair was higher than broccoli-cauliflower (mean difference 1.49+/-.51) (p=.005) and beet-radish1.01+/-.55) (p=.071) pairs.

Overall, children’s willingness and consumption varied by sensory attributes of the vegetables. The multi-sensory approach successfully activated children’s senses while providing exposure to a variety of local vegetables in the Head Start setting.


First Advisor

Srimathi Kannan