The Secret to Eating Fruits & Veggies

2018-06-14

Can a little sticker have the power to get a child to eat a serving of vegetables?

It’s a battle all generations of parents, guardians and school nutrition professionals face: How to get kids to eat more fruits and veggies. (And like doing so!)

Cafeterias are always looking for new ways to make eating fresh foods fun, but the trick comes in changing a child’s behavior. Inspired by the marketing strategies of kids’ meals, two elementary schools participated in a study where small toys and stickers were used to incentivize the F/V portion of their meals. (The full study, and additional studies, can be viewed in the latest edition of the Journal of Child Nutrition & Management.)

Students were observed throughout a period and data was collected by observing individual plate waste, but excluded starchy vegetables like mashed potatoes, French fries and fruit juices. (Most kids love potatoes, so the researchers felt that did not need to be included in the intervention.) Data was collected from both schools and considered the “pilot data,” and student demographics like age, race, socioeconomic status within grade were not observed.

Once the pilot data was collected, next came the fun part: stickers! Stickers of super heroes, cartoon characters, monsters, princesses and other beloved children’s characters were placed on F/V containers. The goal was to change the students’ decisions from taste-based to fun-based. Would they grab a portion of carrots or apples because of the fun character on the container? Finishing the portion was also incentivized with a small toy. Once the child finished their portion, they earned a small token that could be exchanged for a small toy of their choosing.

The schools did notice a change in consumption over the course of the study at both schools. “In this study, servings of F/V consumed by each child were increased by six servings per week, at a cost of one cent per serving for incentives,” according to the study.

The study touches on the topic of marketing and how marketing is a powerful influencer in consumer behavior. The use of colorful, character-based marketing strategies in fast food often leads children to consume less-than healthful choices. By implementing the same strategies on F/V portions, the researchers were able to get their student consumers interested and excited about their meals. This low-cost nudging technique, inspired by that marketing style, changed both selection and consumption of F/V.

Want to try this technique in your own school? Read the full study, “Nudges to Increase Fruit & Vegetable Consumption,” and learn how researchers did it, in the latest edition of JCN&M!

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