Letting them make patterns with the food could make them more inclined to eat fruit and vegetables and avoid food phobias. Picture: Pixabay

London - Children are often told not to play with their food at the table.

But an Oxford academic says this is exactly what they should be allowed to do to get them to eat fruit and veg.

Interacting with food could be the best way for children to develop healthy eating habits from an early age, Professor Charles Spence has found.

The food psychologist says letting them make patterns with the food could make them more inclined to eat fruit and vegetables and avoid food phobias.

He said: "Research suggests that exposing kids to fruit and veg – simply touching, smelling, looking at the disliked food, will lead to an increased chance of them liking it.

"Kids should be encouraged to play with their food even if they don’t eat it."

Professor Spence, whose research was conducted with Innocent smoothies, also found that music could enhance the enjoyment of eating, with high pitched wind chimes apparently suppressing bitterness and enhancing taste for children.