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What McDonalds can teach about kids and food

Sandwich cut into a star shapeIf you are a parent reading this, you possibly have made fun sandwiches using cookie cutouts, ants on a log or even a ketchup happy face on your child’s plate.  We will do just about anything to help our kids try and like new foods, right?

Well, marketing agencies do just the same! Food packaging has been studied – does it  influence children’s food choices? Researchers placed common foods (i.e. carrots) in McDonald’s wrapping paper, Starbuck’s wrapping paper, plain paper and colorful non-branded paper.  I would think the children would reach for the well-known McDonald’s wrapping.  But, that was not always the case.  They chose the most colorful wrapping – sometimes McDonald’s; sometimes the prettiest looking paper!

Marketers know what they are doing.  When you walk down the cereal aisle – what cereals are at your child’s eye level?  Where do you see the healthier cereals?  What about using cartoon characters for selling food?  And, we all know about toys in meals!

Unlike the daycare owner interviewed in the above link, we DO find that positive peer pressure works, even for three year olds.  What they see (repetition in exposure to a food and who they see eating the food) is what they tend to do. We see this in the study – kids DO eat better when it is fun. As parents, we need to be savvy and learn to play the game. Remember the following:

Parent’s role: Provide a variety of foods at the right time and a relaxed feeding environment.

Child’s role: Choose how much and what to eat.

Tips for having fun with food:

  1. Make a face: have your child help you with placing the eyes, nose, mouth and maybe even ears on a plate – with food!  You may have a silly plate looking up at you!
  2. Make shapes with foods- pull out the cookie cutters:  allow your child to cut out shapes of a sandwich, sliced cheese, deli meat and even fruit.
  3. Create a scene: use different foods and create a house, flower or even an animal.
  4. Add color to food: green for St Patty’s Day, pink and yellow for Spring , orange and black and don’t forget red, white and blue!
  5. Make a snack on a string: string popcorn, cheerios, even Froot Loops together.  The more the child touches and is a part of creating meals, the more they may try a new food!

Check out Super Healthy Kids  and Dayton Children’s on the Pinterest Board Kids Recipes and Nutrition Tips for more fun ideas!

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.

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