Aim: Given the importance of food presentation and childhood nutrition, we aimed to test the degree to which adults and children might demonstrate different preferences for various ways in which food can be presented on plates.
Methods: Twenty-three pre-teen children and 46 adults were individually presented full-size photos of 48 different combinations of food on plates. The photos varied according to seven dimensions (e.g. number of items, placement of entrée and organization of the food).
Results: Contrary to the default assumption that parents and children share preferences for the ways in which food is presented on plates, we find that children have notably different preferences than adults. Most remarkably, we show that children tended to prefer seven different items and six different colours on their ideal plates, while adults tended to prefer three different colours and three different items.
Conclusion: The assumption that children prefer food presentations that match adult preferences appears to be unjustified. 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.