Getting your children to eat their vegetables can be a daunting task. Researchers found that placing pictures on school lunch trays induced more kids to take veggies.
If you have kids, you probably have picky eaters. If given the option between veggies and just about anything else, veggies usually lose. We know vegetables are crucial for a healthy diet, but kids are a harder audience to sell that message to. Can we use the power of suggestion to get them to eat their veggies?
Show them the … beans
In a small study in a Minnesota elementary school, researchers placed photographs of vegetables into the school’s lunch tray compartments to see if the pictures might lead children to choose these vegetables for their lunch. Their reasoning was that the photographs might plant the suggestion that “others typically select and place vegetables in those compartments and that they should do so too.”
The researchers examined the number of children who took the vegetable options on a typical day. This was their control. For their experiment, the same meal was offered on another day (the intervention day). The difference was in the lunch trays: the researchers placed pictures of green beans and carrots in tray compartments.
It worked … for some
Interestingly, the ruse worked with quite a few kids. The carrots did better than the green beans, with an increase from 11.6 percent on the control day to 36.8 percent on the intervention day. Green beans consumption increased from 6.3 percent to 14.8 percent.
And if you have kids, you’re probably thinking, “But just because they took the veggies it doesn’t mean they ate them.” The researchers had that angle covered. “You don’t just want them to take the food; you want them to eat it,” says Traci Mann, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and an author of the study.
The researchers actually weighed all the uneaten vegetables left in the trays and even on the cafeteria tables and floor to subtract their weight from the weight of the veggies taken.
Small, but interesting
The researchers make the point that this is a small study and that there were still many kids who were choosing other options. But they also make the point that inexpensive interventions such as these are as effective—if not more effective—than costly ones, “including those that require multiple classroom sessions with trained instructors or parent involvement.”
It’s a novel approach, though the researchers also say that “further research is needed to assess how well the effects generalize to other settings and persist over time."
So, if gluing pictures of parsnips on your kids’ dinner plates isn’t having the effect you’d hoped for, you’ll know this study’s results were limited. Look for other ideas in these articles: