Picky Eaters Influenced by the Color of Their Plate

Do you have a picky eater at home? You may be that picky eater. If so, this new study may help you understand picky eaters better beyond the label.

Many factors can determine how a picky eater registers taste, such as the smell and texture of their food. In a first-ever study, researchers found that the color of the plate the food is served on might also play a role in taste or their perception of taste.

Neophobia, or the fear of/reluctance to try new things, is commonly demonstrated in young children around food (often dubbed “picky eaters”), but many adults also share this title. For the study, researchers looked at 50 individuals who qualified as being food neophobic and separated them into two groups: picky and non-picky eaters. Each group was given the same foods to try, served in different color dishes (red, white, and blue).

The picky group showed a difference in how they perceived saltiness and overall taste of the foods depending on the color of the dish (they perceived foods as “saltier” in the red and blue plates, but not the white). In contrast, the non-picky eaters were uninfluenced by color.

It makes you wonder about food companies using this science to market salty and sweet snacks to consumers with the color of their packaging.

Picky eaters generally tend to have a restricted diet, due to their aversion to many foods and food preparation styles. This can be confused or overlap with disordered eating patterns, but doctors emphasize the importance of understanding the physiological and psychological components involved in one’s interest in or avoidance of specific foods.

This study can help researchers better understand picky eaters and in turn, help them integrate more foods into their diet (on average, picky eaters will rotate through only 20 different foods).

“For example, if you want to encourage a picky eater to try more vegetables well known to be viewed as bitter, you could attempt to serve them on a plate or bowl that is known to increase sweetness,” says Dr. Lorenzo Stafford, olfactory (sense of smell) researcher in the Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth.

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