Choice of Plate Can Help Children Eat Their Vegetables

For centuries, parents have been trying to cajole their children into eating broccoli. Now scientists are here to help.

Techniques for convincing children to up their fruit and vegetable consumption are sometimes called “nudges.” Researchers have been investigating these techniques in recent years and found that, in general, nudges do have the ability to influence kids’ dietary habits.

A recently published study provides evidence for a new kind of nudge that might encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables: using tableware with pictures of fruits and vegetables on it!

Psychologists in the UK tested this technique in a series of experiments. The first experiment found that when children were served grapes on a plate that had a picture of a grape, they ate more grapes.

If level 1 of parenting is getting your kid to eat fruit, level 2 is getting them to eat vegetables. So in their second experiment, the researchers decided to try serving carrots on a plate that featured pictures of carrots.

To learn more about how the specific image influenced children’s eating behavior, the researchers compared a blank plate to two types of plates with carrot pictures: a plate picturing a large portion of carrots, and one picturing a small portion.

This time, the researchers found that children using the large carrot portion plate ate more carrots compared to children with the small carrot portion and pictureless plates.

These results suggest that the tableware children are using can influence their dietary choices and that, at least in the short-term, the right tableware might sell kids on the idea that fruit and vegetables are cool.

Granted, getting a plate with a picture of broccoli and then using it to serve your kid broccoli isn’t the most subtle attempt at subliminal influence. But if the results of this study hold, it might actually work!