Lauren Wisdorf


Hometown: Shoreview, Minnesota

Degree pursuing: Food Science M.S.

Adviser: Zata Vickers

Research focus: Variety and the impact of choice influencers in the diets of free-living adults.

Nursing homes, school lunch programs, etc., provide limited food choices for meals, intending to offer satisfactory variety. But we are unaware of any research-based studies addressing the meaning of satisfactory variety within and across meals, days, weeks, and months. Our primary objective was to determine the variety of foods consumed by free-living, food-secure individuals. A secondary objective was to evaluate how the selections of commonly-consumed foods were guided by several choice influencers (e.g. habit, liking, nutrition). Participants (n = 102) completed a 28-day online food diary with seven eating occasions: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and morning, afternoon, early evening, and late evening snacks. After completing each week, participants rated their satisfaction with the variety in their diets and the impact of 13 choice influencers on the foods they consumed. We measured variety as a count of unique foods, using these counts to calculate the proportion of unique foods consumed. We evaluated if variety differed by gender, eating occasion, day, and week. To determine key choice influencers of commonly-consumed foods, we averaged choice influencer ratings of these foods across participants.These findings will enable eating establishments to better provide satisfactory variety to customers while considering potential choice influencers relevant to their clientele.

How did you become interested in food science?

I found food science after my second year of undergraduate coursework in biology at the University of Minnesota - Duluth. I was very dedicated to science, but struggled to find a direction for my career. I spoke with my uncle who works in operations at a food company, and knowing my love of food and cooking, he suggested I look into food science. And now I'm getting my Master's degree!

Why did you choose the University of Minnesota?

I transferred to the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities during my third year of undergrad. I chose the U of M because of the impressive food science program that would act as a bridge for my dedication to science and passion for food.

How does your research tie into the research being done in your adviser's lab?

Dr. Vickers' has a primary focus on sensory science. This research was slightly out of the ordinary for us as it did not concern actual sensory attributes of food such as aroma and the basic tastes, but still falls within the realm of sensory science. This project, along with a few before, combined concepts of psychology, marketing, and food science to understand more about the individuals consuming the food, rather than the attributes of the food itself.

Future plans

With my M.S., I hope to work in sensory science or research and development at a Minnesota food company.