Smileys convince kids to eat well

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

A few smart tactics could be the key to influencing your children to pick healthy foods over unhealthy options. According to researchers, placing smiley face labels on foods or giving away a small prize for choosing a healthy meal could persuade kids to eat well.

The study was done in order to find a way to improve the quality of school lunches by not just making food more nutritious, but also making it appeal to children so that they pick the healthy choices.

The Times of India reported that researchers thought up a two-part experiment designed to encourage wholesome eating among kindergarten through sixth-grade students at a school in the US. Students typically choose and purchase their meals from a variety of options.

In first part of the experiment, researchers placed green-coloured smiley faces by the healthiest foods in the school cafeteria. Food was assigned to four categories: fruits, vegetables, plain fat-free milk and an entree with whole grains.

Part two came three months later, where the concept of a “Power Plate” was pitched to the students. A “Power Plate” had to contain items from the four categories, and kids who opted for it were offered a small prize, such as a mini beach ball, a sticker or temporary tattoo.

With these experiments, researchers found that the purchases of plain milk increased from 7.4% to 48% of total milk sales, an increase of 549%, whereas sales of chocolate milk decreased from 86.5% to 44.6% of total milk purchases. Fruit purchases increased by 20% and vegetable purchases rose by 62%. Over the duration of the study, there was a 335% increase in Power Plate selection.

“It looks like we found a very promising, low-cost and effective way of improving the nutrition of elementary school children,” said study author Robert Siegel from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre. “This type of programme may be a useful component in schools trying to improve the nutrition and health of their students.”

Even without the prizes, adding visual cues or prompts such as smiley faces seems like a great way to get kids to make healthy choices and eat well, and would be easy enough to implement wherever children are confronted with a choice of food: school cafeterias, restaurants and hotels with buffet options, etc. This is also something parents could try at home, for example by putting smiley faces on the healthier foods in the refrigerator.

Will you try it at home? Share how it goes, leave a comment below. Please like FamiLife’s page on Facebook so that you get all our articles and others may find us.

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