About The Buzz: The First Foods Seen Are The First Foods Eaten?


The BUZZ The First Foods Seen Are The First Foods Eaten?


Environment plays a major role in our decision-making process when it comes to eating behavior. Research shows that when you’re deciding what to eat, it’s very likely that the first foods you see are what you’re going to end up choosing.


In a recent study, researchers created two identical but separate buffet serving lines during a conference.1 The food being served was for a brunch and aside from the order that the foods were arranged, the seven food items were exactly the same. The lines were set up approximately 54 feet from each other with an array of options including, cheesy eggs, potatoes, bacon, cinnamon rolls, low-fat granola, low-fat yogurt, and fruit. The food was placed in order from least healthy to most healthy based on the caloric values of each food. In the first line, buffet-goers were offered the least healthy foods first, and in the second line this order was reversed.


If you were in line one, do you think you would take cheesy eggs and potatoes if they were the first options you encountered? Or would you wait to see if any alternative foods were available towards the end of the buffet line?


This study found that the first foods a person saw in the buffet line were much more likely to be chosen than the last foods they saw. More specifically, the study showed that:

  • 86% of diners took fruit when it was offered first, compared to 54% of diners who took fruit when it was offered last.
  • 75% of all diners took cheesy eggs when they were offered first, while only 29% took cheesy eggs when they were offered last.
  • The first three food items encountered in the buffet equaled about 66% of the total food on their plate, regardless of whether those first items were cheesy eggs, fried potatoes, and bacon or whether they were fruit, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat granola.


Digging Deeper
Going even further, the study found that when the first food chosen was unhealthy, the rest of their plate was likely to follow. Specifically, in the cheesy eggs-first line, nearly 80% of diners either took cheesy eggs, potatoes. Only two-thirds (62%) then served themselves fruit, low-fat yogurt, or low-fat granola. The same held true for picking healthier foods: when fruit was offered first, almost all (96%) took fruit, low-fat yogurt, or low-fat granola. Only 39% of these individuals then took cheesy eggs, potatoes, or bacon. The first foods a person encounters when deciding what to eat from several options will impact the overall nutritional standing of their meal.


What we eat is influenced by many factors, and as this study found, food order dramatically biases what diners take in two ways. Firstly, the majority of diners took the first available foods presented. Secondly, the first food taken also influenced the healthiness level of the plate because the participants also took foods they were accustomed to eating with the first food chosen.


Simple changes to the order of foods served first in buffet lines, school cafeteria lines, and even at home on the dinner table can make a dramatic difference in the types of foods you choose to eat. Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, you can navigate any buffet line, cafeteria or potluck with confidence!

1 Wanskin B, Hanks AS. “Slim by design: serving healthy foods first in buffet lines improves overall meal selection.” PLOS One. 2013, 8(10). View




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