The Psychological Impact Of The Colors Of Food On Children’s Perception
  /   Dr. John Snow

The Psychological Impact Of The Colors Of Food On Children’s Perception

Do you ever think that a crisp green apple is fresh and ready to eat? Or that brown produce is spoiled or overripe so you avoid it altogether in the grocery store? 

We all evaluate the color of food without even thinking about it. Food color can influence our perception, trigger associations, and affect purchasing decisions. But what is the psychological impact of different colored foods on how our children perceive food? Let’s dive into the world of food and color psychology and answer that very question.  

The Perceived Taste Of Color

How color affects the perception of food is complex and multifaceted. Individuals may associate specific colors with certain tastes or flavors, even if the actual taste of the food doesn’t match.

Research shows that color is the most important sensory cue for setting expectations about the likely taste of food and beverages. A large body of research indicates that changing the hue or color can significantly impact the expectation of taste and the following eating experience. Keep in mind that food colors can have different meanings across various age groups, cultures, and individual taste preferences. 


How color influences taste in children isn’t as straightforward as you may think. The brain combines the information we get from our different senses to create a perception of flavor. Other factors, like cultural factors, individual differences, and development stages, also influence flavor assumptions. 

As kids grow, they develop learned associations that may not be universal for everyone. For example, seeing a strawberry may trigger a memory of sweetness, so you anticipate the same taste experience with the color of strawberries. 

In one study, researchers found that individuals perceived dark red and light green drinks as tasting sweeter than light red and dark green. However, oddly enough, color intensity did not affect perceived sweetness for 5 and 14-year-old children. Research suggests that how color affects taste has more to do with how color affects your expectation of the taste, which can influence the overall eating experience.


Psychologists have found that colors may be able also to evoke distinct feelings. Researchers suggest that different colors associated with food may affect appetite differently.  

Brightly colored foods may be more attractive to children in the first place, but the evidence on the direct impact of color that stimulates appetite and encourages fullness is limited. Some studies suggest that plate color may influence how much individuals choose to eat. However, more research is needed to determine if the plate color or the color contrast between the food and the plate is the main driver. 

Some research suggests that plate color influences the appreciation of food in children more than adults. This is especially true for younger children who prefer colored plates more than older kids. While other senses contribute to sensory appreciation of food, the first visual impression of a meal can have a strong influence on whether it’s accepted, consumed, and appreciated. 


Research suggests that one reason food's visual aspect is so important for children is that they haven’t yet learned to rely on all of their senses. As adults, our brains combine information from different senses without thinking too much about it. Some studies suggest that the ability to integrate visual and haptic (touch) information optimally doesn’t develop until about 8-10 years old. 

If a child finds food color appealing, their initial willingness to try the food may be higher than if it is visually unappealing. This is especially true for younger kids, who appear to rely more heavily on visual cues when making food choices. Some studies have also explored how illustrations in storybooks may increase the acceptance of unfamiliar vegetables by combining visual exposure and narrative (sound and sight).

Food Choice

Other research shows that younger children are more drawn to brightly (in many cases, artificially) colored foods. Food color and presentation may influence children’s behavior towards the food and overall eating experience. Often, when we’re trying to encourage healthy foods, we get playful with the presentation, use a variety of foods with natural colors, and even have colorful utensils to make the experience more fun and creative. 

Interestingly, one study found that children preferred red, green, orange, and yellow foods. 

Why Manufacturers Manipulate Food Color

Grocery store aisles and TV commercials are full of brightly colored foods and packaging, which can do wonders at grabbing kids’ attention, but are they actually healthy? 

The problem is that manufacturers often add artificial colors to foods to make them more appealing. These are common in foods like cookies, candy, sugary cereals, and snacks that are too often targeted at children. 

A North Carolina grocery store study found that 43.2% of 810 products contained artificial colors. The highest percentage of artificial colors were found in fruit-flavored snacks and candies. 

In the U.S., three synthetic food dyes account for 90% of all dyes used in food, with a staggering 94% of people over 2 years old consuming Red 40, a type of artificial food dye. With that, over 40% of products marketed toward children contain synthetic dyes. 

Food manufacturers use certain strategies to increase the likelihood of grabbing your attention and creating positive associations. By controlling the color of food, manufacturers can make food look more attractive and influence how consumers perceive a product. While regulations exist around the safety of food colorings, there are concerns about the potential long-term impact of artificial food coloring, especially for our children. 

Classic research into the psychological impact of food color found that when given an orange cherry-flavored solution, 20% of participants actually said that it tasted like orange. However, no orange flavor was reported when the same drink was colorless, red, or green. 

Another study found that children preferred red-packaged food items when offered in a large group of similar items. 

It’s impossible to highlight the most appetizing color, but research shows that children are more attracted to plates full of color. Studies also suggest that certain colors might be associated with specific tastes, influencing the perception of food as sweeter or saltier than it is. The reality is that manufacturers and food marketing wizards understand food color's impact on human behavior and purchasing decisions. 

The Psychological Impact Of Food Color On Children

The psychological impact of food color is a fascinating area. Over time, children develop associations between certain colors and their taste experiences, creating a catalog of color information about an individual’s lived experience. For example, if a child consistently enjoys green vegetables, they might start to associate the color with good taste and be more willing to try other green foods. Of course, this is not a universal rule, as many of us struggle to get our kids to eat more greens

As younger children (aged 4 and under) tend to rely more heavily on visual cues, the appearance of food may have a larger influence on this age group. As children mature, taste preferences, familiarity, and experience all influence food choices. By understanding the role of food color, you can start implementing strategies that boost your child’s interest in healthy foods.

Younger children typically have a more limited experience with diverse flavors. Keep in mind that there are individual differences within visual cues; some kids may naturally be more adventurous regardless of color or flavor expectations, while others may rely more heavily on food colors and appearance. 

Build Healthy Perceptions Of Food For Children

With that information, we can take what we know about color and start exposing our children to real, healthy, natural food colors from a young age. That way, they can start to build a library of eating experiences based on natural foods. 

While bright colors can grab kids' attention, food is so much more than what it looks like. To help them develop healthy eating habits, focus on offering a rainbow of colorful, tasty foods and make mealtimes fun. Let them explore new things, celebrate their efforts, and be a good role model yourself by enjoying healthy foods. This way, you'll be building a foundation for a positive and adventurous relationship with food that lasts a lifetime!  

In time, and with a bit of patience, children could connect yellow and the sweetness of a banana or red to the tanginess of tomatoes. While kids can be more averse to unfamiliar foods, with repeated exposure and positive experiences, they can learn to enjoy new foods and flavors no matter the color. 

You can empower your little ones to make healthy food choices and help them to develop positive and sustainable healthy eating habits. While eating a rainbow of natural foods is best, a kids’ multivitamin can offer a nutritional boost for even the pickiest eaters. You can be confident in the fact that Hiya uses only the best ingredients with no artificial dyes, added sugar, or gummy fillers.    

Remember, supplements do not replace healthy eating but can work alongside a balanced and nutritious diet. Before considering any supplements for your child, please consult your pediatrician. 


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