Teaching young children a theory of nutrition: conceptual change and the potential for increased vegetable consumption

Psychol Sci. 2013 Aug;24(8):1541-53. doi: 10.1177/0956797612474827. Epub 2013 Jun 26.


In two experiments, we used a novel approach to educating young children about nutrition. Instead of teaching simple facts, we provided a rich conceptual framework that helped children understand the need to eat a variety of healthy foods. Using the insight that children's knowledge can be organized into coherent belief systems, or intuitive theories, we (a) analyzed the incipient knowledge that guides young children's reasoning about the food-body relationship, (b) identified the prerequisites that children need to conceptualize food as a source of nutrition, and (c) devised a strategy for teaching young children a coherent theory of food as a source of diverse nutrients. In these two experiments, we showed that children can learn and generalize this conceptual framework. Moreover, this learning led children to eat more vegetables at snack time. Our findings demonstrate that young children can benefit from an intervention that capitalizes on their developing intuitive theories about nutrition.

Keywords: cognitive development; health; intervention; science education.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Concept Formation*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutritional Sciences / education*
  • Vegetables