Food and drink pairing isn’t just for winos. From a very young age, we form opinions about what we should drink with, say, pizza (soda), Lunchables (Capri Sun), and vegetables (plain ol’ water). Mix these pairings up and we’ll lose a little interest in one or the other.
“Preferences start to develop very early in children,” explains Annemarie Olsen, a postdoc researcher at the University of Copenhagen who has studied child food preferences. “Several studies have demonstrated that they start to form already in the uterus!”
To test how beverage might influence food choices, researchers from the University of Oregon and Michigan State University offered preschoolers a healthy snack—raw carrot sticks and red bell peppers—paired with either water or Hawaiian Punch. They found that the zero-calorie beverage led the kids to eat a bit more of the veggies than when the snack was offered alongside the sweet one.
Whether it’s because kids see parents drinking sweet with starch or because they’re repeatedly served it, these preferences are culturally hardwired by adulthood. In a survey of college-age students, the researchers found that with high-calorie foods like pizza, french fries, and hamburgers, soda is the beverage of choice. It’s no wonder the soda habit is so hard to kick.