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Want your kids to eat healthy? Make their meals like McDonald's
A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children were more than 300 percent more likely to choose healthy meals in the school lunch line if they were offered with toys and prizes. - photo by Tyler Stahle
Maybe McDonalds has been doing it right all along.

No, the golden arches certainly dont offer the most nutritious meals on the market. And no, you probably dont want to eat there day after day. But credit the worldwide fast-food chain for understanding one thing: kids love toys with their meals.

Now, researchers are realizing that harnessing the power of healthy food with a toy could be the key that ignites kids to eat healthier in school.

A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children were more than 300 percent more likely to choose healthy meals in the school lunch line when they were offered with toys and prizes.

At the beginning of the study, researchers labeled healthy meals in the school cafeteria line those with fruits, vegetables, fat-free milk and a main item with whole grains with a green smiley emoticon. Then, three months later, researchers offered the Power Plate, a meal that was comprised of the four nutritious groups but came with a toy, such as stickers or mini beach balls.

The results were astonishing. In fact, regular milk sales soared from 7.4 percent to 48 percent of total milk sales, and chocolate milk sales fell from 86.5 percent to 44.6 percent. Similarly, fruit selection increased from one per student per day to 1.2 fruits per student per day.

A two-tiered approach of emoticons followed by small prizes as an incentive for healthful food selections is very effective in increasing plain white milk, fruit and vegetable selection, reported the study.

Such research might be beneficial as school officials across America seek to combat the ever-growing problem of childhood obesity. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of children were overweight or obese in 2012. Obesity that threatens a childs life from a young age makes them prone to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Developing healthy eating habits is the best way for children to combat the risk of obesity, and this enticing meal-with-a-toy technique offers a cheap solution to a national problem.

Although other attempts to persuade children to eat healthier at school have been made, none have found the same levels of success as offering a toy with a meal.

A similar effort was made in 2012 to get kids to eat healthier as researchers from Cornell University placed a sticker of Elmo on apples in the school cafeteria. The sticker seemed to have a profound effect upon the children. While 20 percent of students took an apple without a sticker, nearly 40 percent chose one when the sticker was applied.

Just as attractive names have been shown to increase the selection of healthier foods in school lunches, brands and cartoon characters can do the same, said the researchers.

Other initiatives, such as Michelle Obamas Lets Move! campaign which was started in 2010, encourage kids and parents to eat healthy and be active. Also, the National Football League launched a campaign in 2007 called Play 60 aimed at helping kids get active for 60 minutes each day.
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