It’s the oldest trick in the childhood book: spreading your peas around the plate to make it look like you’ve eaten more, hiding them under the mashed potatoes and—when you’re really feeling feisty—seeing if you can toss them across the table into your sibling’s water glass. Meanwhile, your parents lament, “Why won’t you eat your veggies?” Well, a new study suggests that letting kids play with their food may make them less picky. Toss those peas where you like!
Researchers at De Montfort University in Leicester in the United Kingdom asked a group of 70 children ages 2 to 5 to search for a buried toy soldier in mashed potatoes and jelly while their parents and the research team scored how happy the kids were to get down and dirty with their food. The results: Kids who liked playing with their food were less likely to have neophobia, a condition more commonly known as picky eating.
“Although this is just an association, the implication is that getting children to play with messy substances may help their food acceptance,” lead study author Helen Coulthard told Reuters. Like any study that establishes correlation over causation, the results might just simply mean that kids who are adventurous enough to play with mashed potatoes are simply more adventurous in general, but Coulthard points out that teaching kids to enjoy playing with food might be easier than getting them to actually eat new things. She says making food art could be a good place to start.