Smiley Face Pizza Taco

Researchers are using emojis in school cafeteria taste tests

Remember those sad slices of pizza served in your middle school cafeteria? Well, researchers now want kids to give their feedback about them and other school lunch food via emojis. Yes, emojis.

The Sensory & Consumer Research Center at Kansas State University Olathe is piloting a research project that allows kids to rate school lunch options with emojis, the Associated Press reports. The idea is to create an "emoji ballot" that can be used internationally "across cultures, across countries," Marianne Swaney-Stueve, who runs the center, explains. The research is in part pegged to helping school cafeterias waste less food and is being tested in Olathe and Ghana.

Kids were asked to rate plain oatmeal, pepperoni pizza Lunchables and a Japanese-made strawberry soda (one boring food, one familiar food and one unfamiliar food) to create a baseline. Researchers narrowed the potential responses down to 28 face emojis and 28 words, and let kids use them to rate foods like orange juice and grapes, which received mostly smiling and grinning faces, and spinach, which earned worried and confused emojis.

But, seeing as how emojis mean different things to different groups of kids, one has to wonder, could this really be the answer to improving school lunch?