Today was a momentous occasion for the MilaCel Project. The team ran our school kitchen trial at Pentreuchaf Primary School, preparing and sampling some delicious reduced fat and sugar goodies with the help of local school food producers, The Food Technology Centre, Llangefni and Bangor University’s Centre for Activity and Eating Research (CAER). It was also the final tasting trial completed during Phase 2 ‘Demonstration’ Stage of the project. Don’t worry though, because there will still be plenty of tasting trials and product development planned for the future. We want to keep the momentum going and learn all we can to improve the health and well-being of our nation’s children.
The tasting trial today was a great success. Children from years 3 and 4 of Pentreuchaf Primary School sampled school menu items with reduced fat and sugar, courtesy of our MilaCel project functional apple fibre as part of a class exercise. Susan Lane, a Food Technologist from The Food Technology Centre led the event and introduced the children to sensory analysis by giving a talk to the children on the role of a Food Technologist. It was lovely to see the kids so engaged with what they were learning. During the talk, Sue gave a wonderful lesson on food hygiene and the five sensory organs and their importance in the Food Technologist role. The children saw some bacteria cuddly toys while learning about how the bacteria could make them ill, and the importance of washing their hands before cooking and eating.
After the talk, we split the children into three groups, with the help of the teachers, and rotated them around three activities during the session. The first activity, which was run by Sue, was a ‘smelly pot’ challenge which had the children, working as a team, using their sense of smell to try and recognise certain smells and link them to the related foods. There were three difficulty levels, where level 1 had them smelling recognisable fruity flavours like orange or apple, and level 3 had some very complex flavours like mixed spice. The children did very well, with the first group correctly matching all the smells to the foods.
For the second activity, we had the tasting trial, where each child was given 2 out of 3 samples of cake, sausages or yoghurt to try with two different shapes to identify which was low fat and sugar, and which was the control. The children were asked to try each food item, and tick the shape of the food item they preferred, or tick both shapes if the liked them both. The children sat at different tables to taste the foods without external influence and they were so well-behaved! The children sat down and completed their task dutifully, like professional food tasters, which was wonderful to see.
The third activity, which was run by some students of Bangor University’s Psychology Department, had children closing their eyes while being given three Starburst sweets, one at a time. They had to roll the sweet around their mouths to be able to guess the flavours without using their sight. The kids loved the challenge in this activity and were very happy when they got it right, giving their answer sheets big ticks.
It was amazing to see the children of Pentreuchaf Primary School so well-mannered and enthusiastic throughout the entire event. At the end of the session the teachers sat the children down to review what they had learned and experienced. With a show of hands, the children were asked which activity they enjoyed doing the most. With a nearly even split, it was clear that the children enjoyed every activity they completed. This felt good to see that we were able to educate the children in a fun and interactive manner, while also getting the much-needed results from the taste trials.
On calculating the results from the sensory trial we were able to gather some useful information. On trying the sausages, 72% of the children had no preference between the two sausages. Replacing some of the fat with moisture-binding functional dietary apple fibre clearly had little influence on the texture and taste of the sausages as far as the children of year 3 and 4 Ysgol Pentreuchaf were concerned. Around half of the children had no preference on the cake samples that they tried. This was an impressive result as one sample had reduced fat and reduced sugar to the original school recipe. The advantage of using apple fibre is not only that they can reduce calories, but they are also a source of added dietary fibre, which according to NHS statistics, the majority of children and adults are missing from their diet. Finally, 25% of the children had no preference between the yoghurt samples they tried. Both yoghurts were low fat but one yoghurt had reduced textural sugar to the original recipe. Functional apple fibre from the MilaCel project provided the same creamy thick consistency as the yoghurt containing textural sugars.
The main thing we took away today from working with the children is how responsive they were to what they were doing. They wanted to give us feedback and comments on the food they were tasting, which was more than we were expecting from this session. We have taken note of this and plan to alter the feedback forms while also having a member of the team on hand to ask the children more about their valued opinions. This much needed feedback on preferences and reasoning could help us in the future, whether they like the healthier options placed before them, or to help us improve upon the recipes to give them nutritional food that they will enjoy.
The team would like to thank the staff and pupils of Ysgol Gynradd Pentreuchaf, the undergraduate students of the Department of Psychology, the Centre of Activity and Eating Research, Bangor University, and Sue Lane and the staff at the Food Technology Centre, Group Llandrillo for the support on a wonderfully successful day.