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Food presentation could affect kids’ food choices, suggests study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 12-Jan-2012
Last updated on 12-Jan-2012 at 17:31 GMT

Here comes the many-colored airplane...
Here comes the many-colored airplane...

Food choices are influenced by presentation for children as well as adults – but what appeals to kids may be quite different from what appeals to their parents, suggests new research published in the journal Acta Pædiatrica.

The study, led by researchers from Cornell University, found that while adults tend to find three items of different colors most appealing, children preferred much greater diversity. On average, they preferred seven different items on their plates, and six different colors.

The study’s authors suggest that this preference for diversity could open opportunities for food marketers and parents to encourage more nutritionally varied diets.

“What kids find visually appealing is very different than what appeals to their parents,” said Brian Wansink, professor of marketing at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. “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.”

The researchers presented 23 pre-teen children and 46 adults with photographs of 48 different combinations of food on plates, and asked them to select the picture they liked the most. The food combinations were varied in several factors, including number of items, placement of entrée, and organization of food.

Study co-author and Cornell postdoctoral research associate Kevin Kniffen said: “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.”

Their results suggested that placing bacon in the shape of a smile, or arranging peas into a heart shape, made these foods more appealing to children.

“Contrary to the default assumption that parents and children share preferences for the ways in which food is presented on plates, we find that children have notably different preferences than adults…The assumption that children prefer food presentations that match adult preferences appears to be unjustified,” the researchers wrote.

They recommended that further research should be undertaken into how diverse food presentations affect kids’ actual food consumption in different institutional settings, and across different populations.

Source: Acta Pædiatrica

“Food plating preferences of children: the importance of presentation on desire for diversity”

Authors: Francesca Zampollo, Kevin M Kniffin, Brian Wansink, Mitsuru Shimizu