According to a study coming out this fall from the University of Chicago, one of the worst arguments you can make to a kid is, “Eat this food, it’s good for you.” Researchers hypothesized that children are incapable of believing that food could be good for more than one thing—if it’s tasty it can’t be good for you, and if it is healthy, it can’t possibly taste good.
They tested this theory on children between the ages of three and five, using the most innocuous food they could find: crackers. Here’s how the experiment worked: Researchers told kids two stories. In one the heroine ate crackers and “felt healthy and strong.” In the second story, crackers were barely mentioned. These don’t sound like the most compelling kids’ books we’ve ever heard of, but maybe they had nice illustrations. The results were clear: If kids learned that crackers would make them healthy and strong, they were less likely to eat them than if they heard almost nothing about them at all. Not only that, but the ones who did eat them reported that the crackers tasted considerably worse if they were in the group that had heard about the health benefits beforehand.
Now we just have to see what happens when we start telling tiny people that ice cream is good for their bones. Anyone out there with a 3-year old, please let us know how that works out.