Kids got broccoli blues? Add more color

CORNELL (US) — Parents of picky eaters take note: Children are most attracted to plates that have a wide variety of foods and colors.

For a new study, published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, researchers presented 23 preteen children and 46 adults with full-size photos of 48 different combinations of food on plates that varied by number of items, placement of entrée, and organization of the food.

The children showed a preference for plates with seven different items and six different colors. In contrast, adults showed preference for plates with three items and three colors.

In an experiment, Cornell researchers find that children are more attracted to plates of food full of color. (Credit: Cornell University)


“What kids find visually appealing is very different than parents,” says Brian Wansink, professor of marketing at Cornell University. “Unfortunately, when we parents plate food for kids, we do it in a way that is appealing to us and not to them. Our study shows how to make the changes so the broccoli and fish look tastier than they otherwise would to little Casey or little Audrey.”

Wansink suggests creating designs like placing bacon in the shape of a smile along the lower part of a plate or arranging peas in a heart shape. “Compared with adults, children not only prefer plates with more elements and colors, but also their entrees placed in the front of the plate and with figurative designs.”

“There are lots of prefabricated partitioned plates that parents can buy in stores for young children, but our findings suggest that the typical partitioning into three segments is mainly a reflection of adult preferences,” adds co-author Kevin Kniffin, postdoctoral research associate.

“While plates that are designed with partitions aren’t necessary for preparing a diverse set of foods, Japanese style bento boxes would match better with our findings since they tend to have significantly more pockets.”

The findings suggest new windows for encouraging more nutritionally diverse diets.

“While much of the research concerning food preferences among children and adults focuses on ‘taste, smell, and chemical’ aspects, we will build on findings that demonstrate that people appear to be significantly influenced by the shape, size, and visual appearance of food that is presented to them,” Wansink says.

Adds Kniffin: “Future studies will need to test what kind of upper limit exists on the diversity of foods that children appear to prefer, but the preliminary findings suggest more evidence that young children aren’t just ‘little adults.’ In other words, we shouldn’t assume that they share our views of the world.”

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