Does your child constantly push food around the plate without really eating any of it? It may be more to do with how the food is arranged than your child being picky.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen looked at the serving style of food given to children to discover whether they preferred it to be served in a particular way, and if gender and age made a difference to their preferences.

100 children, aged between 7-12 and 12-14 were asked to make a priority list of photos of six different dishes served in three different ways:

1. With the food elements presented separately so they didn’t touch each other

2. As a mix of separate ingredients and ingredients that were mixed together

3. With all the food mixed together

The results showed that the younger girls aged 7-8 prefer food to be served separately and not touching, while boys of the same age do not have a preference.

The study also showed that children between 12 and 14 prefer food to be either mixed together or served as a mix of separate and combined ingredients. The research doesn’t give any answers as to why the younger girls prefer food to be served as separate ingredients.

Annemarie Olsen says that one explanation is the girls could believe that the different ingredients could contaminate each other. Olsen advises parents to serve food separated on the plate to children of younger age groups.

Olsen goes on to say “It could also be that they prefer to eat the different elements in a certain order or that the clear delineation just provides a better overview. The child can mix the food when the various elements of the food are separated on the plate, while the reverse is not possible.”

If you’re having trouble getting your younger child to eat, try serving their meals separated to see if it makes any difference.