In this study, 60 Italian preschoolers evaluated individual components of five multicourse sit-down meals on liking on a five-point scale by actual tasting in the natural setting of the school canteen. Descriptive Analysis quantified sensory characteristics of these items with a panel of trained assessors to illustrate differences among the dishes. Food neophobia and familiarity with the dishes were measured to test whether these traits significantly influenced liking. The results showed that liking varied (p <.001) across individual dishes. The most liked dishes were all the first course dishes, braised loin with vegetable sauce, raw carrots and all the fruit courses except red orange juice. Least liked dishes were red orange juice, stir-fried spinaches and raw fennels. Liking scores correlated (p <.001) with children's food neophobia (r = −.38), familiarity (r =.94), sweetness (r =.72), odor (r =.70), and flavor intensity (r =.75). Mother's liking (r =.79; p <.001) was more strongly associated with a child liking than father's liking of the same food (r =.38; p <.001). Therefore, controlling for innate taste responses and favoring aromatic and rich-tasting dishes may improve liking. Additional interventions may focus on lowering children food neophobia by facilitating the exposure to unfamiliar foods. Practical applications: Food likes help uncover the basis for food preference especially when hedonic responses are acquired in real life eating contexts. Direct inputs from children are essential to understanding preference formation. Understanding sensory drivers of liking helps plan more palatable dishes for school meals. Knowledge of mechanisms underlying food habits may be helpful to favoring the creation of healthy food practices throughout the population of children.
- meal liking