Here’s how to get kids to actually eat those hated carrot sticks and bits of steamed broccoli that Michelle Obama’s school-lunch program forces them to put onto their trays:
Pair the veggies with something that kids like even less!
That’s what researchers at Texas A&M University are telling us, according to the Washington Post:
Researchers at Texas A&M University, looking for patterns in food consumption among elementary school children, found an interesting quirk about when and why kids choose to eat their vegetables. After analyzing plate waste data from nearly 8,500 students, it seems there's at least one variable that tends to affect whether kids eat their broccoli, spinach or green beans more than anything: what else is on the plate.
Kids, in short, are much more likely to eat their vegetable portion when it's paired with a food that isn't so delicious it gets all the attention. When chicken nuggets and burgers, the most popular items among schoolchildren, are on the menu, for instance, vegetable waste tends to rise significantly
"Pairings of entrées and vegetables are an important consideration when assessing plate waste among elementary school children," the researchers note.
Indeed, the effect can work the other way around. The study found that children tend to eat less of their entree when popular vegetables (mostly starchy fried vegetables, like tater tots and french fries, which many wouldn't classify as vegetables) are offered. When the entree is paired with steamed broccoli — the vegetable children eat the least of on average — kids instead eat more of the main dish.
What a great idea! Don't serve anything the kids actually like! Make the contents of the school cafeteria trays so revolting that even a carrot stick will look good. “Pair” some roasted turkey gizzards with that steamed cauliflower—and the cauliflower will vanish down the hatch.
Scientists have been scratching their heads over those darned kids who won’t eat what Michelle says is good for them:
Since 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has implemented a requirement – widely championed by First Lady Michelle Obama – that children must select either a fruit or vegetable for school lunches subsidized by the federal government. However, a new report published this week by researchers at the University of Vermont found that even though students did add more fruits and vegetables to their plates, as the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” enforces, “children consumed fewer [fruits and vegetables] and wasted more during the school year immediately following implementation of the USDA rule.”
Here’s another strategy the scientists have come up with:
Traci Mann, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, studied eating habits and dieting for more than two decades, and believes food pairings are crucial in upping the attractiveness of food. Mann has developed a strategy of putting the vegetable on the plate first, and by itself, calling it the "get along with a vegetable" strategy.
"Normally, vegetables will lose the competition that they're in – the competition with all the other delicious food on your plate," Mann said. "You just eat your vegetable first, before any of the other food is there. Eat them before other food is on your plate, or even at your table. And that way, you get them when you're hungriest and unable to pick something else instead.
Mann has stated that this strategy has also worked with children. When tested in school cafeterias, the amount of vegetables eaten quadrupled.
Shorter version: Eat that broccoli or we won’t give you any chicken. No wonder the “amount of vegetables eaten quadrupled.”
Oh, for the days of the cafeteria ladies ladling that "unhealthy" mac & cheese onto your tray!