McDonald’s might have been on to at least one thing it seems. Making meals happier by adding a seemingly inconsequential smiley face or sticker-prize to foods might make children more likely to eat that food. Many might assume that it’s the fries and chicken nuggets that kids are after, but it seems it might be the happy decals and tiny prizes that really made kids attracted to the Happy Meal.
A school in Cincinnati Ohio tested the theory. Could a smiley face sticker make children want to eat their veggies?
It seems so, according to new research that was recently presented in San Diego at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting. Kindergarten through sixth-grade kids at an inner-city school were more likely to pick nutritious meals, including their fruits and vegetables, if the food was labelled with a smiley face sticker or came with some other small prize like a tiny beach ball or a temporary tattoo.
In the Cincinnati study, when researchers attached stickers and prizes to the target foods, children grabbed vegetables at an increase of 62 percent and fruit at an increase of 20 percent. During the first phase of the study, the researchers simply added a smiley face sticker label to healthy foods. During the second phase, the researchers added the bonus reward of the tiny prizes like mini-balls, fun stickers and temporary tattoos to meals they called “Power Plates.” The researchers wanted kids to consume plain milk instead of chocolate or flavored milk. With the new strategy, children were over five times more likely to choose the plain milk while chocolate milk sales were nearly cut in half. Kids were over three times more likely to pick a Power Plate meal at the end of the study than they were at the beginning of the study.
Dr. Robert Siegel, the medical director of the Center for Better Health and Nutrition of the Heart Institute at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and author of the study explained the findings, according to Medical News Today:
“It looks like we found a very promising, low-cost and effective way of improving the nutrition of elementary school children. This type of program may be a useful component in schools trying to improve the nutrition and health of their students.”
Lunch prepared by Desiree’s friend for her kid. Isn’t it cute?!?!? 😭 pic.twitter.com/brYITuxVAi
— Jaiem Maranan (@jaiemmayhem) April 25, 2015
I’ve noticed that for my very picky daughter’s lunches, making things a little bit more fun has absolutely increased the likelihood that she will eat her entire lunch. I haven’t tried bribery with prizes, but arranging the healthiest parts of her lunch into a fun design, using tiny cup and tiny forks, and cutting the healthiest of food choices into tiny appetizers has significantly increased the likelihood that she will actually eat it. I’ve even put salad fixings on safe party skewers, and miraculously she ate it.
What about you? Do you have any tips for making healthy lunches fun that you can share? I sure could use more ideas and I think I’m in good company!