Emoticons encourage kids to make healthier choices

Emoticons encourage kids to make healthier choices

A new study at an elementary school in Cincinnati found that labeling healthy foods with smiley faces or emoticons can increase kids’ motivation to pick healthier options like fruits, vegetables, fat-free milk and whole grain options.

The school also implemented a “power plate” featuring these food groups with a small prize on the lunch tray. When they did this, sales of the milk rose by 48 percent, fruit by 20 percent and vegetables by 62 percent.

This effort was likely successful because kids are simple and enjoy prizes and visuals, says Barbara Fine, a pediatric dietitian at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

“Seeing happy faces makes them more interested,” Fine says. “They like doing something, like eating healthy, in order to get the prize.”

Researchers believe that their results could offer a low-cost and effective way to improve the nutrition of elementary school children.

Parents can similarly encourage their kids to eat healthier at home by cutting healthy foods into fun shapes that will make kids more likely to eat them and by offering foods with a variety of colors.

“Some kids only know apples as being red, not green,” Fine says. “Different textures and types of food preparation are also good: steamed, raw, sautéed.”

Parents can easily recreate the power plate lunch in their child’s lunch bag or box.

“Always include a vegetable, fruit, protein, whole grain and dairy product in lunches,” Fine says.

Here are a few healthy lunch box suggestions:

  • Add vegetables to a pita pocket.
  • Serve leftover steamed veggies as a side to dip in hummus or Greek yogurt dip.
  • Make a turkey roll up in a whole grain tortilla.
  • Add dairy with a string cheese or yogurt.
  • Supplement juice with water or low fat milk.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.