Kids prefer variety of foods and colors on their plates

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Want your kid to eat more fruits and vegetables? Put together a more attractive plate of food, researchers at Cornell University and London Metropolitan University said Thursday.

But here’s the thing: The arrangement of food that’s most appealing to your child may not be the one that’s most appealing to you, they wrote in the journal Acta Paediatrica.

In what they called a “preliminary” study, the researchers showed 23 children age 5 to 12 (and in attendence at a summer camp in Ithaca, N.Y.) 48 different combinations of food on plates, asking them which were their favorites. They repeated the exercise online with 46 adults.


The plates varied by number and mixing of colors; number of components; position of the main component; whether they were crowded or empty; whether they were organized or disorganized; and whether the elements on them were arranged into a picture (such as a heart or a smile.) A variety of foods -- including eggs, bacon, fruits and veggies -- were represented.

Results showed that kids appreciated different qualities in a dinner plate than grownups. Where adults’ most common preferences for number of different food colors and different food items was three, children most liked a plate with six different colors (the largest number the researchers included), as well as a plate with seven different components (again, the largest number included). Adults liked their main food component in the center of their plate. Kids liked theirs toward the bottom. Perhaps less surprising, kids liked when their food was arranged into a picture, while adults preferred a “casual” plate design.

The differences they observed, the researchers said, suggest that strategies to encourage healthy eating among kids need to be tuned more specifically to children’s visual preferences.

“Our findings support the view that children are not simply ‘little adults,’” they wrote. “Most especially we are struck by the finding that young children appear to prefer plates that feature a wide variety of foods and colors.”

This, they added, “should open a window of possibility for those concerned with childhood nutrition,” who might want to consider presenting kids with colorful, multi-element dinner plates.

Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab website has posted a summary of the research.


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