We all eat with our eyes, even kids. However, until recently, I never really considered the differences between how adults and kids eat with their eyes. Turns out kids are drawn to plates that feature six different colors and seven kinds of foods whereas adults prefer three colors and three foods. Researchers including Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University shared these results in a January 2012 article in the journal Acta Paediatrica.
The researchers showed pre-teen children and adults 48 photos of different combinations of food on plates. The plate variations included total number of food items, placement of entrée on the plate and overall organization of the food. Both kids and adults preferred the entrée or main dish to be on the part of the plate that was closest to them and both groups preferred plates with some empty space.
I decided I had to give this theory a try, but was admittedly intimidated by the thoughts, “six colors and seven foods on one plate? how am I ever going to manage that?” In an effort to encourage Hailey to eat the same foods we eat, my instinct has been to plate her food in the same way that we eat the meal. I’d make age-appropriate modifications, but largely tried to make her food look like ours. The thought that I’d need to prepare additional meal components for her was daunting at first, but then I remembered Hailey’s favorite veggie medley in the freezer as well as grapes in the fridge and I quickly had four more colors to add to the four-color Chicken Tikka Masala with Cucumber & Onion salad that was on the menu. Since fruits and veggies provide the most color diversity and relatively fewer calories than other foods, try upping the color factor by adding additional produce components so the overall calorie value of the meal doesn’t increase significantly as you add more foods to the plate.
I set the plate in front of her and was amazed at how the meal progressed. She had had Chicken Tikka Masala on one other occasion and it wasn’t a total flop, but not a “yum-inducer” either. As she ate her favorite familiar items from the plate, a few pieces of carrots and grapes fell into the sauce. She’d pick them out, eat them and get enough taste of the sauce that she then dug into the chicken and rice as well. I’m not sure if this method will make every meal a colorful flavor-discovery adventure, but I am certainly going to take a couple minutes to add additional pops of color to Hailey’s plate in the future. And particularly when I’m introducing new foods and flavors!
Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!