Better step up your dinner game: Kids want colorful plates

Jan. 9, 2012 at 12:23 PM ET

Dinner time for the kiddos just got more complicated.

While we’ve long known that a plate of varied, colorful foods is the healthiest option for kids (and adults, too!), new research tells us just how much color and how much food children prefer at mealtimes.  And the amount might have you running out of the kitchen.

Researchers from Cornell University found that when tested, kids preferred seven different items and six different colors on their ideal plates, while adults tended to prefer three different items and three different colors.

In the study, published in the January issue of Acta Paediatrica, 23 pre-teens and 46 adults, were shown photos of 48 different combinations of food on plates that varied by number of items and placement of food.

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Want your kids to eat? Make sure their dinner plates are full of color and creativity.

The study also throws out the notion of serving the same-looking plate of food to the whole family. Turns out presentation matters, and kids don’t necessarily imitate their parents’ preferences.

In addition to wanting plates with more types of food and colors, kids want their entrees in the front of the plate – adults want them in the center -- and surrounded by figurative designs.

"What kids find visually appealing is very different than what appeals to their parents," Brian Wansink, professor of Marketing in Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, wrote about the research. "Our study shows how to make the changes so the broccoli and fish look tastier than they otherwise would to little Casey or little Audrey."

Yeah, the broccoli and fish…and the lasagna, tomatoes, dinner roll, blueberries and strawberries. And make it look like a smiley face, while you’re at it.

What do you think? Would your kids eat better if they saw more colorful food on a plate? What’s the wackiest design you’ve ever made on your kids' dinner plate?

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