Don’t tell them it’s healthy!
A study published last year has provided further support to what Healthy Kids has always suspected; if you tell kids that a food is good for them, they will eat less.
In the study on preschoolers by Maimaran and Fishbach, the researchers used a story to convey messages about a cracker. In one story the health benefits of the food were emphasised. In the other, the food was referred to as ‘yummy’ only. The food was then presented on a table for kids to eat if they chose. The ‘yummy’ story resulted in kids eating more.
Apparently, it all comes down to either an experiential benefit or an instrumental benefit.
Flavour speaks louder than words
An experiential benefit is related to the experience, e.g. it tastes yummy or satisfies hunger. An instrumental benefit is one that is related to what the food can do for you, e.g. “eating this will make you strong”. The benefit happens after you have finished the activity, in this case eating a cracker.
If the focus is on the instrumental benefit (e.g. make you strong), the children are less likely to believe that it can fulfil the experiential benefit too (be tasty).
The study authors admit that, for teenagers, it works differently. “They’re able to understand that, if some food is good for one thing, it might also be tasty for them,” Maimaran says.
But certainly for primary school children, keeping the message to taste only, or giving no message about the food, is best.
So what do I tell my kids?
What does this mean for you? When talking to kids about eating fruit and veg at Crunch&Sip time (or anytime really), encourage discussion about the taste. Or don’t say anything at all and let the food speak for itself.
Maimaran, M, & Fishbach, A. (2014). If it’s useful and you know it, do you eat? Preschoolers refrain from instrumental food. Journal of Consumer Research, 41 (3), 642-655. http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/ayelet.fishbach/research/MaimaranFishbach.pdf
Kellogg Insight. Parents, listen up! Kids, never mind!) (2014). Retrieved from http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/parents_listen_up_kids_never_mind