New program links self control and healthy eating
The Sector > Research > New program helps toddlers’ to improve self control and grow healthy eating habits

New program helps toddlers’ to improve self control and grow healthy eating habits

by Freya Lucas

October 05, 2023

A new program that teaches parents how to cook with their two-year-olds is helping toddlers to develop self control and healthy eating, two of the best predictors of life-long health and wellbeing. 


The Recipe 4 Success program was co-developed and tested by a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Pennsylvania State University and staff members of home visiting programs in seven cities, towns, and rural areas across Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in the United States. 


Doing things like stirring ingredients together without spilling and singing a song while something is in the microwave helps toddlers learn multiple important self-control skills, like paying attention, controlling their bodies, waiting patiently, and cooperating with their parents. 


Previous research has shown that self-control in preschool predicts adult outcomes like higher incomes and fewer health problems. Similarly, healthy eating habits in preschool predict how often adults eat their fruits and vegetables. 


The results of the second randomised controlled trial of Recipe 4 Success has just been published in the journal Child Development. 


“It’s encouraging that parents and toddlers are so excited about cooking healthy foods together. Parents easily learn new strategies that turn daily routines, like making lunch, into a form of quality time with their toddlers that is both educational and fun,” said lead author Professor Robert Nix. 


“We were happy to see that parents could use what they learned in the special cooking lessons to support their toddlers’ development in other activities, like playing with blocks.” 


Recipe 4 Success was delivered as part of the Early Head Start home visiting program, one of several evidence-based home visiting programs designed for young families living in poverty and funded by the federal government. Home visiting programs partner with parents to promote the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of infants and toddlers, so they are prepared to succeed in school.


The research found that parents who participated in the Recipe 4 Success program, compared to parents who continued with regular home visits, were more engaged and responsive and provided better support for their toddlers’ learning of new skills, as demonstrated in video-recorded parent-child interaction tasks. 


They also were more effective in the way they introduced their toddlers to novel healthy foods. Moreover, their toddlers had better self-control skills, greater attention spans, and were more compliant, as demonstrated in waiting tasks, observer ratings, and parent reports. They also were more likely to continue helping to make and eat healthy foods at home, as demonstrated by food and activity diaries, collected over three days.  


Access the findings in full here

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