Want calm kids at the table? Cut their food

There’s a new secret to get your child to behave at the dinner table—cut up their food and they’ll relax.

A new Cornell study published in Eating Behaviors, found that when 6-10 year old children ate foods they had to bite with their front teeth— such as drumsticks, whole apples, or corn on the cob— they were rowdier than when these foods had been cut. “They were twice as likely to disobey adults and twice as aggressive toward other kids,” said Brian Wansink, Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

During a 4-H summer camp, 12 elementary children were observed for this 2-day study. On the first day, half of the children were seated at one picnic table and were given chicken on the bone that had to be bitten into with their front teeth; the other half were seated at a nearby picnic table and given chicken cut into bite sized pieces. On the second day, the conditions were reversed. Each day, two camp counselors instructed the children to stay inside a circle with a 9-foot radius. Both meal sessions were videotaped and evaluated by trained coders who indicated how aggressive or compliant the children were, and if they exhibited any atypical behaviors, such as jumping and standing on the picnic tables.

Results from both the counselors and coders observations indicated that when children were served chicken on the bone, they acted twice as aggressively, and were twice as likely to disobey adults, than when they were served bite sized pieces of chicken. Furthermore, the children who were served chicken on the bone left the circle without permission more frequently and were more likely to jump and stand on the picnic tables.

Along with Wansink, the research was conducted with Guido Camps now at Wageningen University and Research Center; Francesca Zampollo now at Auckland University of Technology; and Mitsuru Shimizu, now at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

In conclusion, the researchers note that when children need to bite into food with their front teeth, they are more likely to get rowdy! The bottom line for parents is this “If you want a nice quiet, relaxing meal with your kids, cut up their food,” according to Wansink. He had different bottom line advice for school lunchroom staff, “If drumsticks, apples or corn on the cob are on the menu, duck!”

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.


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8 thoughts on “Want calm kids at the table? Cut their food”

  1. This study is very interesting indeed, but I would not rely on it 100%. I agree that there might be some connections between the way food is served and the behaviour of children. Maybe this can be scientifically proved. I also agree with Mikateko that there are a lot of external factors which the experimenters did not keep in mind.
    Did all of the children do the same activities during the rest of the camp? Their energy levels might influence their behaviour.
    Were all twelve children evenly hungry?
    What if their tastes and preferences differed?
    Although I do not feel confident to believe this conclusion, I do believe that it is a very intriguing topic with a potential scientific breakthrough in the future.

  2. I really find this research very interesting as it makes complete sense. It fits logically as to why children would behave like that on the table. The physical strength and effort put in by kids to cut their food resemble the behavior of an animal that is fending its food. This invokes the aggressive and excited feelings in young kids which cause them to behave as such. However, the extent to which the kids would misbehave can not be completely blamed on the presentation of the food. The table manners and rules set out by parents can at times counter prove this research.

  3. Now i can relate to my childhood because i always thought that i was a disobedient child, which also my parents thought so but now they are amazed that i am all different what they expected me to be, Its quite the opposite that i can tell, hence they thought i’ll be this rude and aggressive person and i’ll grow up to be alone thus to them it seems like its a miracle and by God’s grace that i grew up to be a better boy. thanks to this article now i get the logic behind everything.

  4. This is a very intriguing experiment. It seems valid, since most children struggle cutting their own food, and that might cause the children to be aggressive, however my concern is whether the background of the children was considered when doing this experiment,some of the children could have been aggressive due to the way they were raised at home and one aggressive child could have caused the whole group to be aggressive.

  5. I understand that meal time is almost only the time were family come together to interact but then it wouldn’t be wonderful if we have kids running up and down so this could be one of the ways to stop such behavior.And thus the more they are disciplined at an early stage the better.One can also consider this especially when you have visitors in the house, a well mannered kid during meal times can influence visitors to consider coming back again and again.

  6. This actually isn’t unfamiliar news. I grew up with my parents having cut my sandwiches and vegetables into pieces. I believe that it may actually be the ease of eating food that’s been cut and also the fact that food that has been cut into pieces looks more appealing to children.
    However, I feel that a quiet dinner table creates an awkward atmosphere. While it’s good to have children behave at the dinner table, we shouldn’t make it seem like a staunch, uncomfortable affair. Meal time is supposed to be fun. It’s usually the only time the whole house is together at the table.
    Variety in food also helps children behave. Children tend to get more rowdy at the table if they are becoming bored with the food they eat.
    This having been said, I can’t imagine a child who’d be happy if I replaced their chicken drumsticks with pieces that have been broken off of the bone. My cousin would probably throw a small fit.

  7. This is a very interesting study they did. I think it could be one a way to keep the peace at the dinner table by cutting your children s’ food, but if you discipline your children from a young age you will not have this problem when they are at that Elementary school stage. I believe your table manners say something about both you upbringing and you character. People easily change their opinion about others once they saw how the other person eats. If you teach you children table manners, naturally the first thing you teach them is to eat with a fork and a knife. This way your children are able to cut their own food, they will not only be more relaxed but they will feel like “a grown-up”. To conclude, if you want to have a peaceful atmosphere at the dinner table first teach you children good table manners.

  8. It appears that by simply altering the the form of the food taken in by children; their behavior can change as well. This discovery promotes parents to use this method to discipline their children at the table rather than using methods of punishment due to the cutting of food being more effective than the screaming of putting food down. It is seen that the correspondence between eating food that is off the bone manufactures a calmer dinner session. However I do feel that their are many other factors that could alter the results which were not mentioned such as gender. The data could have been more reliable in my opinion if such variables were narrowed down.


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