Objectives To examine how Australian children's reported everyday food preferences reflect dietary recommendations, and the impact of sociodemographic factors on these associations.
Design Cross-sectional survey.
Setting/subjects Three hundred and seventy-one parents of children aged 2–5 years, recruited from three socio-economic groups in two Australian cities, completed a survey on their child's liking for 176 foods and drinks on a 5-point Likert scale in addition to demographic descriptors. Preferences were compared with the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
Results Foods in the Extra Foods (non-nutritious foods) and Cereals groups of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating were highly liked (mean: 4.02 and 4.01, respectively), whilst foods in the Vegetables group were liked least (mean: 3.01). A large percentage of foods in the Cereals and Extra Foods groups were liked (64% and 56%, respectively) in contrast to the other food groups, especially Vegetables (7%). Children liked foods that were higher in sugar (r = 0.29, P < 0.0001) and more energy-dense (r = 0.34, P < 0.0001) but not those higher in saturated fat (r = 0.16, P = 0.03), total fat (r = 0.12, P = 0.12) or sodium (r = 0.10, P = 0.18). Sociodemographic variables (e.g. socio-economic status, parental education, children's age and sex) explained little of the variation in children's food preferences.
Conclusions Australian pre-school children's food preferences align with dietary guidelines in some respects, but not others. Interventions are needed to shift children's preferences away from non-nutritious foods that are high in energy density and sugar, and towards vegetables and fruits.