Children's willingness to try (WTT) foods is positively associated with dietary quality. Sensory characteristics of foods are likely to contribute to children's WTT and dietary intake, but there is little research investigating how sensory characteristics inform vegetable consumption in real-world settings.
To investigate the relationship between students’ vegetable sensory perception questionnaire responses and vegetable consumption during school lunch.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
This repeated cross-sectional study collected data at 3 rural Illinois schools over 3 months (3 dates at 2 schools, 2 dates at 1 school) when broccoli or peas were served. Schools participated in the National School Lunch Program and had students in grades K-8.
Vegetable consumption was measured by individual direct weighing of waste remaining from standardized vegetable portions. Questionnaire data used a 3-point scale, adapted from USDA Try-Day Taste-Testing Ballots, to assess if students tried the vegetable and WTT vegetable again, and allowed students to rate the vegetable's visual appeal and taste. Descriptive statistics were used to characterize the study sample. Linear regression analyses (adjusted for grade, sex, and percent entrée consumption) were used to examine the association between students’ questionnaire responses and school lunch percent vegetable consumption.
Participants were 51% female and 49% male (n = 317 students, average of n = 40 per month per school). Responses to vegetable taste and visual appeal questions were significant predictors of percent vegetable consumption, such that students who responded positively to the questions consumed 17.1 and 17.8 percentage points more vegetables than those who responded neutrally (β = 17.1 and 17.8, respectively, P <.001). WTT responses significantly predicted vegetable consumption, with students who responded positively consuming 15.0 percentage points more than those who responded neutrally (β = 15.0, P < .001).
Students’ vegetable sensory perception questionnaire responses are significant predictors of school lunch vegetable consumption. Subsequently, practitioners should consider improving the visual appeal and taste of school meals, and researchers should incorporate sensory perception measures when evaluating school meal interventions.