Optimal defaults as a strategy to improve selections from children's menus in full-service theme park dining

Jessica C. Dalrymple, Cynthia Radnitz, Katharine L. Loeb, Kathleen L. Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


An “optimal default” refers to a pre-selected default option that promotes an outcome intended to be favorable to the individual and/or society at large. Optimal defaults preserve the decision-maker's ability to opt-out of the default and choose an alternative option. This behavioral economics strategy has been shown to nudge both child and adult consumers toward healthier food selections. Full-service restaurants with children's menus are key settings for implementing this approach. The current field study manipulated children's menus at two theme park restaurants, testing the effects of three different item presentations (i.e., lower-energy-dense default, standard fare default, and free array menus). Each menu was presented to consumers for 1 week at a time, in random order. Full choice was preserved with all menu options appearing across conditions, with non-default items listed as available upon request. The restaurants tracked food orders during each of the three weeks. Results showed that positioning lower-energy-dense foods as default menu choices increased the likelihood of lower-energy-dense menu selections and decreased the likelihood that customers would “opt-out” for standard fare. There were also significant differences in total caloric value of food ordered across conditions, with the optimal default menu condition promoting the lowest potential energy intake. This study further supports the effectiveness of optimal defaults to increase healthy food choices for children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104697
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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