Getting kids to choose healthier food like fruits and vegetables over junk food is no easy feat, and this is even tougher if you eat out a lot, even though restaurants are slowly beginning to offer healthy options. But a small study by researchers from Cornell University recommends asking your kids to think about what role models like Batman and other superheroes would eat. It could mean the difference between raising a healthy eater and a junk food monster.

"Fast food patronage is a frequent reality for many children and their parents," study co-author Brian Wansink, Cornell professor of marketing and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, was quoted as saying on "Simply instructing a parent to order healthier food for a child is neither empowering for a child nor easy for a parent. Advising parents to ask their child, 'What would Batman eat?' might be a realistic step to take in what could be a healthier fast-food world."

The study, which was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, was conducted on 22 children between the ages of 6 and 12, all of whom attended the same summer camp and participated in the study for four weeks. Researchers gave the kids the option of getting either French fries, which contained 227 calories per serving, or apple fries, which contained only 34 calories per serving, both from a popular fast food restaurant.

When left to make their own choices, only 2 out of 22 kids picked the apple fries. Then the researchers showed the kids 12 photos of real and fictional role models identified as admirable or not admirable by another study. They asked the kids which option (French fries or apple fries) they thought each role model would pick, recording the children’s responses. When they did this, 10 of the 22 participants chose the apple fries when next given a choice in munchies, and many of the kids who changed their preferences were the ones who believed that admirable role models would always choose the healthier option.

This solution to healthy eating is so simple and effective that there isn’t any reason not to do it. So the next time you go to a restaurant, when it comes time to order, don’t forget to ask your child what his favorite superhero would eat. You can even apply this tactic when your kids go grocery shopping with you. This way, you'll be encouraging them to pick snacks that are healthier for them without taking the choice away from them.

(Photo by Wendy Copley via Flickr Creative Commons)

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