One of the lessons many parents try to teach their kids is that it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, but rather what is on the inside. In other words, looks are not as important in life as who you are or how you treat other people. While that may be true for friends and future partners, it seems that looks might in fact be important when it comes to getting kids to eat a healthier diet.

A recent study has found that in the universal effort to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables, appearance may be a key. When researchers presented fruit to a group of children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old, they found that enhancing its appearance in a fun and interesting manner resulted in greater consumption. In fact, when the fruit looked enticing, kids were twice as likely to eat it as opposed to when it was presented in a more “regular” and “normal” manner.

The researchers took strawberries, grapes and apples and made them more aesthetically pleasing by skewering them with flagged cocktail sticks that were then inserted into a watermelon. The “regular” presentation consisted of the same fruit, skewered in the same manner, but presented on a plain white plate as opposed to sticking to the watermelon.

In the study, published in the journal Appetite, children were divided into three groups over the course of two sessions. In the first session, one group was asked not to eat the visually appealing fruit (i.e., stuck into the watermelon); a second group was told not to eat the regular fruit, which was left on a plate; and a third group was allowed to eat either fruit. In the second session, all the children were able to select either fruit.

On average, the children ate 4.8 ounces of the visually appealing fruit, and about 2.6 ounces of the regular fruit. The take home message is, make it flashy, and they will come.

Interestingly, the popular notion that food is more appealing to kids when it is designated as “forbidden fruit” did not actually apply to fruit. When candy or other treats are not allowed, they often become more alluring to children (and adults), in part because of this restriction. In the study, this phenomenon did not seem to apply to the food in question.

Furthermore, the scientists were at a loss as to why the kids preferred the more visually stimulating offerings, when they knew well enough that they would taste the same, regardless of how they looked. Perhaps the appeal is rooted in the overall experience, and not simply the flavor.

After all, when you get down to it, meals can be a positive experience that instills a child with memories and values that can last a lifetime. And knowing that enhancing the overall experience, including appearances, of eating can have a positive effect could help to alert parents, schools and even marketers to the world of possibilities. Then again, marketers are probably well aware of this effect.

So it may be instructive for adults to take the time to make meals fun and interesting. It could not only encourage kids to eat a healthier diet, but it could very well make meal time a more overall enjoyable experience. But that’s just some food for thought.