Nutritionally Engaged Research


Would you eat more vegetables if someone put pictures of them on your plate? Well, it looks like kids might. For the past several years, University of Minnesota Psychology Professor Traci Mann, along with colleagues in the Carlson School of Management and several other departments, have been studying ways to get kids to eat more vegetables during school lunch.


Diverging from the oft-used tactic of trying to teach kids the importance of eating vegetables, this research tinkered with the cafeteria itself and the way food is presented and served. “We started with the cafeteria trays and put pictures of carrots and green beans in two sections of the tray to give kids the idea that, ‘Oh, this is where everyone is putting their vegetables,’” Mann explains. 


As hoped, kids did take vegetables to fill those sections of their trays. “The kids took them and they ate them, and that’s probably partly due to them seeing their friends doing the same thing,” Mann says, noting that the research team’s approach was influenced by a somewhat similar idea tried on adults. In that study, grocery carts were labeled so that one section was specifically marked as the spot for produce. “And it did turn out that people bought way more produce when carts were labeled like that,” she adds.


Research on how to get kids to eat more healthy foods is going on all over the country, but being able to put theories to the test made all the difference in understanding what is truly effective. For Mann and her colleagues, partnering with the Richfield Public School system was an essential part of efforts to turn research into positive change. In particular, Mann is grateful to Deb Labounty, the school system’s nutrition services supervisor who “was really open to letting us try different things with the kids to see what works.”


This type of community partnership is just one way the University is advancing efforts to deepen the connection between public engagement and the research, teaching and outreach activities of its five campuses.


Through the Office for Public Engagement the University is facilitating processes to encourage and promote interdisciplinary collaborations that advance public engagement. Ongoing engagement strategies aim to deepen the University’s service to the public through research that benefits society while optimizing educational experiences for students participating in community-focused learning.