TastEd is the official U.K. wing of the Sapere network of sensory food education, also known as ‘taste education’. The evidence base for TastEd as an effective model for increasing children’s willingness to try new foods (especially fruits &vegetables) currently takes several forms. One thing we should say is that children’s food habits are famously hard to measure, given that no human learns to eat in a laboratory. It is exceptionally tricky to disentangle the influences on a child’s eating from school and from home. When we ask ‘is TastEd effective’? generally the measure we would look at is ‘does it increase a child’s willingness to try new foods?’ But other questions also matter e.g. did the child enjoy the experience?
The first form of evidence for the TastEd method is the body of published research into the effectiveness of Sapere among children in other countries. You can read some of the research here. More recent research into the Sapere method in Finland, published in 2018, found that – based on survey data – exposure to sensory food education was associated with pre-school children being more willing to try new vegetables & fruits compared to a control group. Another form of evidence which we drew on when creating our resources was sharing best pedagogical practise from Sapere teachers around the world. In 2019, we hosted the annual Sapere Symposium and learned from sensory food educators from Japan, Sweden, Finland, France and Norway.
Beyond Sapere, there are a number of studies suggesting that multisensory exposure to foods can increase the acceptance of unfamiliar vegetables with young children. See, for example, Dazeley et al 2012, Coulthard et al 2017. Outside of the classroom, there is a vast body of evidence suggesting that children’s taste preferences are largely a function of repeated, direct exposure to foods. We have developed our learning resources with the help of an advisory panel – including Lucy Cooke, one of the leading researchers into how children learn to enjoy vegetables.
As well as drawing on formal academic research, we are also working closely with teachers from schools and nurseries across the U.K. to collect both quantitative and qualitative feedback in a more informal way to establish the immediate impact of TastEd. Every TastEd lesson plan ends with a simple question: did anyone try anything new today? So far, to our knowledge, this question has never yet elicited a ‘no’ response from all of the children. Usually, the vast majority of children in a class of thirty will put their hands up.
Last academic year (2020-2021) teachers reported that 71% of primary school pupils who took part in TastEd lessons tried a new fruit or vegetable. This is based on 37 sessions run across 10 schools. Meanwhile, 74% of children liked a fruit or vegetable that they tried during a TastEd lesson. During the 2021-2022 academic year we asked teachers and EYFS practitioners “Did pupils’ confidence in trying new foods increase as a result of running TastEd lessons?” Responses from 50 schools and nurseries were: 86% of teachers reported an increase in confidence, 8% saw no increase and 6% were unsure.
In the short time since TastEd was founded, we have gathered a mass of anecdotal feedback from teachers that the method works for most children in terms of empowering them to try (and often like) new vegetables and fruits. Some of this is on our website whilst you can see more on social media. Or here are a few examples from teachers from three different primary schools:
“There are two autistic children in Y1, one of whom has a full-time TA. He’s never touched or eaten veg in his life…[his parents have] been so impressed to hear that he took part in peeling the clementines…and prodding the salad veg”
“The whole Year 2 class tried four kinds of cabbage even though the teachers were convinced they wouldn’t”. “Ten children had never tasted raw peppers before and seven of those said they would eat them in the future”
“They could not stop talking about [TastEd] during the week and they are still talking about it now. I have noticed that the children will now explore more food at lunchtime”.
Finally, we are currently working with two separate teams of researchers – one at the University of Exeter and one at the University of Roehampton – to help establish a UK-based evidence base exploring the benefits of sensory food education for children’s eating habits and taste preferences. We continue to be informed by new evidence and look forward to the results of new research that is being undertaken.
This will give you access to our comprehensive, FREE 30 min Teacher Training Video which clearly explains how to deliver a TastEd lesson. Guided by an Educational Consultant with more than 20 years working as a teacher, you should get all the information you need to try a TastEd lesson.
Have a browse through all the resources on the logged area. You should find lesson plans and PowerPoints for every year group from Nursery to Year 6, plus special topic lessons covering the Romans, refugees, Tudor history and more. There is also a range of supplementary materials including ideas for assemblies, worksheets and letter templates to send to parents.
There are a number of ways you can approach starting TastEd in your school. You could:
Run a TastEd lesson for a small group outside of a lesson time to get a feel for the resources and structure of the lesson.
Try a full lesson with your class – lesson plans are very comprehensive, and our PowerPoints guide you step by step through the lesson.
Trial TastEd after school with a small group to build your experience.
Collaborate with a passionate parent to try a TastEd lesson with a class or small group. Many parents have tried TastEd this way in schools as a way to get staff on board, before handing it over to be included in the curriculum.
We find parents to be a valuable group of advocates, who are often influential in bringing new initiatives to schools, and Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) are good ways to raise awareness of a project you think your school should run. We have many parents who passionately run, and support TastEd in their school. You could do the same by:
Share the TastEd website, or some of our YouTube videos with a like minded teacher or school staff member to see if it is something they think could be brought into your school.
TastEd is FREE for schools to sign up to. Ask a teacher or school staff member you know to sign up to TastEd using their school email address.
Find a teacher who also supports bringing TastEd into your school and work together to trial it with a small group or one class.
Share your idea for bringing TastEd into your school with the PTA and see if they would sponsor funding for teacher training in your school.
Consider running TastEd lessons for teachers as a way of showing them how easy lessons are, and how impactful it is. We have a number of parents who have taken this approach, running TastEd lessons on a regular basis, who then handed over the lessons to teachers to teach within the curriculum. Meet with a supportive teacher to see how you could bring TastEd to school, and ensure that you get the relevant safeguarding checks, and have the support you need.
FAQs about teaching TastEd lessons
TastEd lessons are designed to be taught in a classroom, but they could also be run in a garden or school kitchen.
We want to make it as easy as possible for teachers to enjoy teaching TastEd lessons in their class, and we are aware of equipment challenges in schools. Therefore, each lesson requires simple kitchen equipment such as a chopping board and sharp knife, colander or sieve for rinsing fruit and veg, some containers to keep chopped produce in and some reusable plates or napkins for the children. We recommend the use of ear defenders in the HEAR lesson, as they amplify the sounds of children eating so much, but the same effect can be achieved by a child covering their ears.
Some lessons include simple food preparation activities, such as grated carrot salad or beetroot hummus which do require more equipment. But if this is an issue, maybe speak with your school kitchen who might lend you some or ask the PTA for a donation for kitchen equipment.
We are aware of the pressures on budgets in schools and want to make it as easy as possible for teachers to teach sensory food education. Each lesson has been designed to cost not more than £8/10 per lesson per class. But often the cost of ingredients is far less. For example, for the TOUCH lesson using cabbages, you can get 3 different cabbages for under £2 in the supermarket. However, some lessons which might use berries will cost a little more.
Lessons are also designed to give each child just a taste of each fruit or vegetable, so you need much less than you would for cooking lessons. You could do a session with a couple of bags of different apples and the children would still get a sensory food experience. Another option is to use the school snack scheme produce in TastEd lessons.
Many TastEd lessons are also very flexible in the fruits and vegetables you can use. For example in the HEAR lesson, you need loud and quiet foods, so you could select whatever is good value in the shops.
Food prices vary widely across the season, so one recommendation is to adapt TastEd lessons to the seasons. For example, strawberries in winter are expensive (and also less delicious) so maybe choose a cheaper, but also more seasonal fruit like apples and pears.
TastEd lessons are designed to explore each of the 5 senses. We recommend teachers begin using sight as it’s the least invasive of the senses to use, and a gentle introduction to new foods. Running in the order for your year group means children get gradually closer to eating the fruits or vegetables and develop their confidence with the TastEd approach and golden rules. But, TastEd lessons can be used in any order, and every lesson always has an opportunity for the children to taste the foods at the end.
TastEd requires no previous experience of food, sensory food education or cooking. We have a number of elements to ensure you feel confident teaching TastEd:
Our Teacher Training Video which is FREE to schools, clearly guides you through the principles of TastEd, why it works, and how to run a lesson.
Our lesson plans are very detailed, including lists for equipment, ingredients, a lesson outline, word banks, curriculum links and background facts for the teacher.
Our PowerPoint slides are designed to take the class and teachers step by step through each TastEd lesson. They contain simple, clear instructions, questions to ask and samples of children’s responses just in case.
One of the unique features of TastEd is you are not necessarily teaching knowledge or food education. Your role is to facilitate a child’s exploration of fruits and vegetables using the senses and capture their curiosity through modelling, enforcing the golden rules, asking open questions and encouraging them to share their own experiences.
The TastEd team has a range of experience of working in schools including headteachers, teachers and parents, and we are acutely aware of the pressures on teachers today. That’s why we have designed TastEd lessons to support the national curriculum. Specifically TastEd can be used to deliver the Cooking and Nutrition element of the primary Design and Technology curriculum and the healthy eating components of Relationships and Sex Education and Healthy Eating. However, it can also be used to teach literacy, history, art and more. For an overview of how TastEd supports the curriculum for your year group, have a look at our curriculum map.
Additionally, we have a growing range of topic specific lessons which have been created in collaboration with the University of Cambridge Primary School. Topics covered include Foods of Pompeii, the 1960s (and Ringo’s Broccoli) and Evolution (and The Don’t Eat Me Salad). These bring topics to life for example through the examination of tudor foods, and are a great way to kick off, or celebrate the end of a topic.
TastEd lessons are adapted for each year group so that the language and content progressively develops their skills and knowledge that is appropriate for their age. However, many of the activities can be used across different year groups, or even for mixed age group settings.
Don’t worry. TastEd works with all types of fruit and vegetables and in many TastEd lessons there is flexibility around ingredients. Remember it can be fresh, frozen, tinned, dried fruits and vegetables. If you are struggling to get the right ingredients, try and find something similar.
TastEd lessons are designed to give children a small amount of each fruit or vegetable, so there isn’t often a lot of produce used in each lesson. It is also a good opportunity to explore the topic of food waste with children. You can use any leftover foods in snack time, or offer them to the school kitchen to use up. You can always add them to the compost (or build a wormery) and some teachers are really creative in using leftover fruit and vegetables, drying them for decoration, using them for artwork and feeding school pets.
FAQ about children in TastEd lessons
TastEd lessons are designed to be taught in a classroom, but they could also be run in a garden or school kitchen.
This is totally normal. It’s fine to give children an opportunity to say whether they dislike a certain fruit or veg. But remind them of the golden rules of TastEd – No one has to like! Accept that they don’t like something and embrace the diversity of tastes. But also remind them that their tastes will change throughout their lives (they don’t eat baby food today!) and through TastEd might find the learn to enjoy something they once weren’t so keen on.
Remember the golden rules of TastEd – No one has to try – which removes expectations and pressure from the child to eat the food. Research shows that children will be more receptive to trying new foods, when they can explore them at their own pace.
If the child doesn’t want to put the food in your mouth, they can try it by smelling, licking it, nibbling it, looking, touching or listening to it. For many children, these are the necessary small steps towards tasting and ultimate liking.
This is totally normal. Remember the golden rules and remove any expectation from the child to do anything. You want to build up the child’s trust so they can gradually feel brave enough to touch or taste it.
Practically in class, rather than offering a taste from a large bowl, you could give each child a plate with small tastes of fruit or vegetables to try. You could always just place the vegetable in front of them and simply ask them to use their eyes. Ask “what do you see?” “What does it look like?”. Take small steps each time, and you’ll be amazed how their curiosity takes over.
Remind the children of the golden rule – No one has to like it. You can say it is fine if they don’t like it. Give them a tissue to spit the food into and get them to pop it in the bin. But also, try to engage them about what it is they don’t like? Is it the way it feels in their mouth? Is it the flavour? Is it too strong? All this information can help them to understand their taste preferences and why they like or dislike certain foods.