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Colorful Meals May Appeal to Picky Eaters

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Updated: 1/30/2012 4:29 pm

Jan. 12, 2012 -- Is your child a picky eater? A new study may help you expand his or her palate.

Children prefer much more color and variety in food presentation, compared to adults, according to the study. For example, children preferred twice as many colors and different items on their plates.

Children also responded well to figurative designs on their plate, like bacon “smiles” and peas arranged into a heart shape.

Researchers say the results suggest that parents can encourage picky eaters to eat healthier by introducing more color and creativity to their plates.

“What kids find visually appealing is very different than what appeals to their parents,” Brian Wansink, PhD, professor of marketing at Cornell University, says in a news release. “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.”

Kids Prefer Colorful Meals

In the study, published in Acta Paediatrica, researchers showed 23 pre-teen children and 46 adults full-size photos of different combinations of food on plates and asked them to choose which food presentations they liked the most.

The results showed children preferred plates with seven different items and six different colors, while adults favored plates with only three items and three colors.

“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,” researcher Kevin Kniffin, PhD, of Cornell University, says in the release.

Researchers found simple steps, like shaping a bacon strip into a smile at the bottom of the plate or arranging vegetables into fun shapes, made the food presentation much more appealing to children.

They say the next step is to test whether picky eaters actually eat what they say looks good enough to eat.

If so, giving children a wide array of foods on their plates may widen their palates and help them eat healthier.

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