The secret to getting kids to make healthier food choices? A bright green smiley face. Yes, seriously.
At least that's what researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found in a two-pronged study at a 300-student, inner city Cincinnati elementary school.
When the emoticons were placed near cartons of plain nonfat milk in school cafeterias, the proportion of kids who took them shot up from 7.4% to 48% — a staggering 549% increase. Meanwhile, chocolate milk selection dropped from 86.5% to 44.6% of total milk sales.
You might assume that kids and vegetables could never get along, but after the green faces were introduced, they put 62% more vegetables on their trays. Fruit selection, too, rose 20%.
Then, for the second part of the study, the team introduced the "power plate," a pre-prepared dish consisting of four of the cafeteria’s healthiest foods: fruits, vegetables, low-fat plain white milk, and entrées consisting of whole grains. Students who opted for the plate wererewarded with a small prize, like a sticker.
The small reward system obviously gave kids more incentive to pick the healthier option, but rather surprisingly, the positive imagery (smiley faces) actually proved more effective in swaying children.
A combo of both, of course, would be ideal. In other words, to get kids to eat better, it may be wise to follow the McDonald's Happy Meal model — with a big cartoon smile plastered across the front of the container and, of course, a toy inside — but with, you know, food that's actually good for them.