We make 200 food decisions a day—most of them are subconscious, which means you probably think that number is unrealistically high. Maybe you think you’re making more like, say 15?
At least that’s what participants in a study published in the journal Environment and Behavior estimated.
“It’s really easier than we think to let small things around us—plate size, package size, people around us, distractions—influence these 200-plus decisions because we are not aware of them in the first place,” said Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and of Applied Economics at Cornell. “Rather than try to overly obsess about our food decisions, it’s better to change the environment so that it works for us rather than against us, making it easier to make decisions to eat less.”
So doing just one small thing to make some of those decisions easier (and more likely to result in a healthy choice) is worth it.
What is the small thing exactly? Slicing your produce.
Yup, you heard us right.
A study published in The American Journal Of Preventative Medicine found that sliced fruit was more appealing to children than whole fruit because it is easier and tidier to eat. Schools that pre-sliced fruit increased the average daily apple sales by 71 percent. The percentage of students who selected apples and ate more than half increased by 73 percent at schools that served pre-sliced fruit, and the percentage that wasted half or more decreased by 48 percent.
“This study applies the principle of convenience from behavioral economics and provides an example of a scalable, low-cost environmental change that promotes healthy eating and decreases waste,” reported the Washington Post.
The CAN Approach
And it isn’t only children that are swayed by sliced produce. This study is only added support to an approach to eating pioneered by Brian Wansink, a consumer psychologist at Cornell University who studies the many factors that influence our food choices. The approach is broken down into three tenants:
- Convenience: Make healthy foods and beverages the easy, obvious choice.
- Attractive: Display healthy foods so that they look appealing.
- Normal: Make healthy foods the default and most abundant option.
Case in point: Slicing your fruit and veggies and having them ready to go when you open your fridge after a long day makes them a more convenient and attractive snack, than say the full cantaloupe sitting on the counter or the whole head of broccoli you have to wash, cut, and cook before you can eat it.
A new study published in Psychology and Marketing proved the effectiveness of the CAN method: After analyzing over 100 studies that collected information about healthy eating behaviors, the researchers found that most healthy eaters did so because a restaurant, grocery store, school cafeteria, or spouse made foods like fruits and vegetables visible and easy to reach (convenient), enticingly displayed (attractive), and appear like an obvious choice (normal).
The study proves that with apple slices in the fridge, red pepper strips at your desk, or sliced veggies next to the hummus in the fridge, produce becomes just as convenient, attractive, and normal—as say a bag of chips from the vending machine—when hunger hits.