Common concerns over short lunch periods, appropriate seating, and the challenge of nutritional choices in school lunches are common. But have you considered the effect of the noise in the cafeteria on healthy food choices?
Susan Gross, PhD, MPH of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has, and her results (2014) may give us some clues to help our children eat healthier and to eat more during lunchtime. In her research observing 6-8 year olds, she noticed that children ate more when a teacher sat next to them, when food was cut up into small pieces, and that children ate specifically more vegetables and whole grains when the lunchroom was quieter.
According to a study in the journal Food Quality and Preference (A.T. Woods et al., 2011), the gustatory system perception of saltiness and sweetness are diminished in environments with loud background noise. In contrast, the perception of crunchiness increases. With loud background noise, our ability to hear the sound our food may decrease. This affects our ability to judge the freshness and ripeness of foods (ex. fresh snap pea vs soggy snap pea, crisp part of apple vs. mushy brown spot).
Two experiments on taste and smell (Crisinel and Spence 2010) in relation to musical instruments suggest that high frequency and pitch instruments, piano, accentuate the experience of sweet tastes and are associated with sweet smells. While lower frequency and pitch instruments, brass, correlate with bitter tastes and the smells of musk and coffee.
Eating is a multisensory process that requires integration of all of our sensory systems. Auditory sensory input must be considered as part of a comprehensive plan to promote positive feeding environments.
In the lunchroom, smaller lunch groups, sound buffering technology, and the quiet playing of piano music may help our children make healthier food choices and eat more resulting in improved endurance and readiness for learning.
At home, be mindful of background noise during mealtime. Help your young eater explore foods by labeling the way foods sound as you eat them at the dinner table. Make connections between the sounds of their food and their tastes, textures, ripeness, freshness, and juiciness. The understanding of food attributes help children learn how they need to move their mouths to handle foods with these qualities. Your food explorer will be better able to predict the taste, quality, and characteristics of their food in environments where one or more of their sensory systems may be dampened.
So get out those fresh foods and begin exploring food sounds with your child today! Below is a list of high crunch foods to get you started…you can even have a crunch contest to see what foods make the loudest crunch!
Written by: Amanda Michel, MLD, OTR/L, Oral Sensorimotor Specialist