In one study, he and his colleagues served participants
dinner, accompanied by a glass of “two-buck Chuck” Trader
Joe’s wine. They told half the participants that the wine was a
new California label. The other half of the participants were
told they were drinking North Dakota wine. Not only did the
participants who thought they were drinking a California
wine rate the wine as tasting better, they actually rated the
food as tasting better as well, and the chef as having more
It might seem depressing to learn that we are so out of tune
with our own tastes, and that we can’t rely on our stomachs
to know when we’re sated. But the good news is that once we
understand our hard-wired eating behavior, we can change our
environments in ways that make us eat better, Wansink said.
For example, buying smaller plates and glasses.
After he did the study that showed that bigger plates and
glasses make people consume more, he said, “I’m pretty sure
everyone in the lab went out and bought new ones.”
Now, Wansink is aiming to bring his research to one of the
front lines in the fight against obesity: school lunch rooms.
Through a project he’s begun called the smarter lunchroom
initiative ( www.smarterlunchrooms.org), he’s working with
school systems around the country to make simple tweaks that
will encourage students to eat more fruits and vegetables and
In one school cafeteria, for example, he found that food
servers dumped fruits into an unattractive metal bin near the
steam tables. He bought a cheap fruit basket and piled the fruit
artistically inside, and brought in a desk lamp to light up the
display. Fruit sales more than doubled.
In another school cafeteria, he moved the salad bar from an
isolated spot to a prime location next to the cash registers. Salad
bar sales went up more than 200 percent.
Such simple solutions could be an effective and cheap tool
to change students’ eating habits, Wansink believes. Now, he
and his colleagues are thinking big: They’ve recently received a
$1 million federal grant to bring their ideas from the lab to the
school system, and they’re hoping to have as many as 35,000
schools on board by 2015. n
To watch a video of Wansink discussing his top
tips for healthier eating, click here.