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A research group at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL) has been granted NOK 12 million by the Research Council of Norway to develop new ways of educating children on making good food choices.

Children need new ways to learn about taste

In schools and daycare facilities, food education has had a rigid focus on health.

What is healthy, and what is unhealthy?

What do I like, and what don’t I like?

Is the food sour, salty, sweet or spicy?

This is how we tend to talk about food. However, these concepts are inadequate when faced with an experience as complex as taste, according to researchers Eli Kristin Aadland and Hege Wergedahl. They believe that taste is so much more.

For instance, taste may relate to care – is the meal made with love? It may relate to what flavours are trendy, or moral aspects of the meal. It may relate to closeness to nature – how was the food on our plates grown? And it may involve ethical dimensions. Are we taking care of ourselves and the planet through the food we make?

Memories, feelings and togetherness

"We sense the food using our physiological system. However, we taste it via our psychological system, and share experiences of taste with others in the social system," Aadland says.

She is the project manager of TASTE Didactics – Food and Critical Thinking.

"The physiological aspect relates to the purely scientific: taste buds, sour, sweet, salty. However, in order to taste, we must also include the psychological aspect. For instance, this relates to how the food is experienced: about memories and feelings, those with whom we share the food, and how we talk about it," she says.

The TASTE Project will be carried out over the span of four years, and its structure is two-fold.

The researchers will visit schools and daycare facilities to investigate how children currently learn about taste, reflection and taste competence. They will subsequently create a teaching plan for both schools and daycare facilities. They will analyse the situations in Norway and Denmark, in parallel.

Professor Karen Wistoft from Aarhus University, formerly a professor at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL), will also take part in the project. She has conducted considerable research on taste, and the research group will be utilising her theories on taste dimensions in the project.

A shift away from the recipe mindset

In the school system, food and health education has until now been characterised by an instructive culture. Pupils receive a recipe and are tasked with learning to follow it, and the are not accustomed to deviating from it.

"We need to focus less on the recipe mindset and incorporate more creativity and reflected choices," Aadland says.

Aadland and Wergedahl are seeking to develop a teaching plan that enables children to make their own food choices, based on values such as sustainability, health, understanding of taste and enjoyment of taste. Children will then become agents of change in a world in need of more critical thinking around food. Furthermore, they will also be able to influence parents and caregivers to make better choices.

The psychological and social aspects

In TASTE, the researchers talk about three dimensions of taste experiences:

  • the physiological
  • the psychological
  • the social

The latter two categories have been overlooked in the Norwegian education model. However, there is now a new way of thinking in the Curriculum for Compulsory School.

Among other things, the classes on food and health now include the following: Pupils are to critically assess the information about the food product and discuss how consumer power can influence global and local food production. They are to use their senses to assess the quality of the food products. They are also to discuss how taste can influence food preference and food choices.

These are all things Wergedahl and Aadland are interested in facilitating through the development of a new teaching plan.

"We will be including this way of thinking for the younger children at daycare as well. There too, we need to incorporate a broader understanding of what taste actually is," Wergedahl says.

Until now, the focus has mostly been on teaching the children what is right and wrong in terms of food. Instead, we want the choices they make to come from within.

About the research:

  • The Western Norway University of Applied Sciences is developing new knowledge that contributes to solving challenges in society from a sustainability perspective.
  • Research activities take place in a regional, national and international research community and students and collaborators are involved.
  • The Western Norway University of Applied Sciences has six priority research areas:
  1. Responsible innovation
  2. Sustainable energy and environment
  3. Computer technology
  4. Public health
  5. Oceans
  6. Creativity play and learning

Read more about the research at HVL here.

This article/press release is paid for and presented by the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL)

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