Kids adopt their parents’ preferences on many fronts, but when it comes to how food is presented on a plate, children have definite opinions, and these impact what they eat. According to a study published in the January issue of Acta Paediatrica (101 [1], 61–66), the nut definitely falls far from the tree when it comes to plating.

Zampollo and colleagues set out to test the degree to which adults and children might demonstrate different preferences for food presentation. Twenty-three preteen children and 46 adults were individually shown full-size photos of 48 different combinations of food on plates. The photos varied, for example, in the number of items displayed, placement of the entrée and organization of the food. Contrary to the default assumption that parents and children share preferences for the ways in which food is presented on plates, the researchers found that “children have notably different preferences than adults. Most remarkably, we show that children tended to prefer seven different items and six different colors on their ideal plates, while adults tended to prefer three different colors and three different items.”

“The assumption that children prefer food presentations that match adult preferences appears to be unjustified,” concluded the researchers. “Future research and interventions that are designed to improve childhood nutrition should test for the impact of diverse presentations on actual food consumption among a variety of populations across institutional settings.”