The Shape of Food and the Influence on Children’s Food Preferences

Many child care providers can relate to children’s requests to have their sandwiches cut into squares or triangles.  Child care providers are all too familiar with young children eating only shells and macaroni noodles over spirals and spaghetti noodles. We often hear children’s demands for food in various shapes, but the question is whether their demand really makes a difference in their intake and preference for that food.

Researchers at the University of Idaho have found that it does!

Children who participated in the bread shapes study were offered four bread samples made from Idaho-grown hard white whole wheat flour.  Bread shapes included breadstick, knotted roll, cloverleaf roll, and butterflake roll. Bread was selected because it is a highly palatable food and may be less influenced by shape bias.   All shapes were standardized for uniformity in baking time with the only difference being the individual shapes.




Knotted roll


Cloverleaf roll


Butterflake roll

Children’s preferences for each bread sample was determined by a liking scale (yummy, yucky, just okay).  Children’s intake for each bread shape was determined by gathering the pre-weight and post weight of each bread sample.  Taste preference activities were video recorded to capture child behaviors. 

Child reported liking of the bread shapes were not consistent across all shapes.  The majority of children reported a high liking for the breadstick, while few children reported a high liking of the cloverleaf roll. Children’s intake of the bread shapes were not significantly different however, children consumed more of the breadstick by weight.

Videos showed that children frequently identified food as something they were familiar with, making statements such as: “This one looks like a hotdog.” “Mmm, I love breadsticks!” “Cupcake, cupcake, cupcake, hot dog!”  Children tended to show interest and positive responses to the bread shapes they were most familiar with (i.e. breadsticks). 

In young children, a single characteristic, such as shapes and their familiarity with that shape influences food selection, preference, and may affect intake. Caregivers who feed young children should recognize how a single characteristic, such as how food is presented can influence the foods liked and consumed by children.  Strategies such as explaining what the food is, how it was prepared, what it tastes like, and how to eat it can help children learn about different food and the various shapes in which food can be eaten. 


Written by University of Idaho Dietetic Student and MS Candidate,

Lauren Keeney


This project was funded by the Idaho Wheat Commission
For the full abstract see 
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