By Dr. Ayala
Brian Wansink is famous for his work on the psychology of eating and for popularizing terms such as "mindless eating" and "health halos." His research has unveiled some of the many occasions in which environmental cues such as packaging, label claims and plate size influence our eating.
There's something particularly encouraging about Wansink's findings. If so much of our eating, overeating and unhealthy eating is driven by nothing more than unconscious, mindless habits, a targeted environmental change can improve our eating without much sacrifice, indeed, almost without individuals having to do a thing.
Plate presentation affects eating
A new study from Wansink's group, published in the January issue of Acta Paediatrica, and led by Francesca Zampollo looks at how the look of the plate affects kids and adults.
Twenty-three kids and 46 adults were shown 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.
Kids preferred plates with more items and more colors, they liked the entrees placed in the front of the plate, and they liked figurative designs. In fact, kids liked it when their plate had 6 different colors and 7 different foods, while adults preferred a plate with no more than 3 colors and 3 foods. Both kids and adults appreciate a non-crowded plate, with just enough empty space.
More color and more choice
Food marketers have known about kids' attraction to rainbow design for years I suppose. Take a look at the packaging of foods targeted to kids' and the recurring pattern is lots of colors, shapes and figurative designs. Minimalism and simplicity aren't a winning style in kids' products. So I guess young focus groups have told marketers much the same as the study group told the researchers.
According to this study kids visually prefer a plate with many elements and many choices. It is yet to be proven that they'll actually eat more readily if such a multiple-choice plate were served, but if that is indeed the case I welcome this finding. All we need in order to achieve 6 colors and 7 choices is to serve several kinds of vegetables and fruit to accompany the entrée - and we don't even need to chop them into a salad.
Have you noticed how presentation affects you or your kids?