A recent Cornell University study conducted by Dr. Brian Wansink, Dr. David R. Just and Dr. Collin Payne suggests that adding a fun factor to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, can make those foods more attractive, especially to picky eaters like kids. And branding may just be the key parents are looking for to inspire kids to eat healthier.
The five day study involved 208 kids from diverse backgrounds. Each day the kids would select lunch and have an opportunity to make a dessert choice: an apple, a cookie or both. Baseline choices were determined on day one. The next three days the researchers put either a cute familiar sticker (Elmo) on just the apple (one day) or just the cookie (one day) or they put an unfamiliar sticker on the apple (one day). On the fifth day the apple and cookie were presented without any sticker embellishments. Researchers wanted to see if the “branding impact” with the stickers actually carried over to the selections made on day 5 (the day when no stickers were used).
The researchers did indeed find that use of a familiar sticker (in this case Elmo) resulted in a significant increase overall, in the apple selection. In fact, kids nearly doubled their choice of an apple on day 5. The sticker on the cookie had little impact. The unfamiliar sticker also had little impact. The take-away message seems to be that just like unhealthy foods use branding to inspire additional interest, healthy foods can and should use a similar approach to create more interest. Putting stickers of Elmo, Dora the Explorer and Waldo on produce and healthy grain products is one approach to getting kids more interested in trying fruits and vegetables. Stickers of sports figures and superheroes could work on slightly older elementary school kids. Clearly, if parents and pediatricians want to inspire kids who already love fast foods and processed foods, to intentionally make a choice of a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain product instead, they need to use some really creative inspirations. Why not turn to the same approaches that woo kids to demand less healthy food before they even know how it tastes? Parents can also use presentation to woo kids to healthier choices. Sandwiches cut with cookie cutters into fun shapes, or including kids in the preparation and allowing them to use cut up fruit and vegetables to make faces on foods like waffles, pancakes or yogurt could certainly help to inspire healthier eating.
A new survey also suggests the role that food marketers might play in helping consumers to make healthier choices. Discounts and deals on produce and whole grain products, product placement of healthier foods higher up on shelves so they are more visible and at checkout counters (ever see a bowl of apples at a supermarket checkout counter?), and ads and in-store banners that promote healthy food products could also help parents to highlight the virtues and good taste of these items.