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Grant for Shelley van der Veek to teach toddlers healthy eating habits

Shelley van der Veek has received a LUF Gratama grant for a research project that aims to help parents teach their toddlers healthy eating habits by promoting sensitive feeding in the phase when toddlers become fussy about food. The project aims to develop a free and accessible eLearning programme to teach parents how to encourage healthy eating during the challenging ‘don’t-like-it!’ phase.

Ensuring people do not become overweight is essential to preventing chronic diseases later in life. It is crucial to address this in early childhood because weight gain in the first years of life is a significant predictor of being overweight as an adult. And being overweight is mainly determined by our eating habits and there is evidence that our food preferences develop in our first years of life. However, many parents struggle with how to help their children develop healthy eating habits. This is particularly challenging when children become pickier eaters in their second year, the ‘don’t-like-it!’ phase.

Shelley van der Veek is an assistant professor at the Institute of Education and Child Studies at Leiden University. She researches health and disease within families. She was also involved as a senior researcher in the ‘Baby’s Eerste Hapjes’ (‘Baby’s first bites’) project, which was awarded a Dutch Research Council (NWO) grant and studied babies’ transition to solid foods. 

Read more about Shelley van der Veek ››

Pressuring the child to eat is counterproductive: the child will only become pickier about the food and will eat less of it.

Positive feeding strategies encourage healthy eating in the first year of life

Scientific literature has shown that repeatedly trying foods is the best way to introduce new flavours and encourage healthy eating habits. But persuading a two-year-old to try something it doesn’t want to eat isn’t easy. And several large studies have shown that interventions that successfully promote healthy eating habits during the first year of life lose their positive effects when toddlers enter the ‘don’t-like-it!’ phase. In this phase many parents start pressuring their child to eat. This is counterproductive: the child will only become pickier about the food and will eat less of it. Instead, positive feeding strategies may actually promote healthy eating habits in the first year of life.

Shelly van der Veek’s research project is building on the results of Merel van Vliet’s PhD research, Baby's Eerste Hapjes and Samen Happie, and aims to promote positive healthy eating in young children who have reached the ‘don’t-like-it!’ phase.

About Leiden University Fund

LUF manages a number of Named Funds, for which there is an annual grant round. These funds support unique teaching and research projects by academics from Leiden University, often in a specific discipline. With the odd exception, these are grants between € 2.600 and € 35.000. Read more ››

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