A History of Getting a Child to Eat Vegetables
The ordeal of getting a child to eat vegetables hasn’t changed much since I was a child myself.
If you are even a bit like me, you might recall sitting alone at the dinner table, mindlessly prodding some green mound on your plate with a fork while the clock ticked toward your childhood bedtime. The leafy green mound being prodded had turned cold long ago, and the chance of it growing an ice cap before you would ever eat it was fifty-fifty.
The old reliable trick of drowning the now cold leafy greens in ketchup would not work. It was impervious to flavoring. The only solution was to gobble it down, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Mom’s threat of serving my uneaten veggies to me the next morning for breakfast was idle mumbo-jumbo. There had never been a morning when I found ice-capped day old spinach blobbed beside my eggs and toast.
My strategy to not eat my vegetables was to outlast my mom’s patience. When asked from another room if I was eating my spinach, I simply said “I am,” and continued to prod the green heap with my fork, moving it into new patterns in hopes it would appear that I’d eaten some. Better yet, I’d whine. It didn’t matter what I actually said; whining was all about an irritating tone that would push mom’s buttons. “But I don’t like spinach” or “I have to go to the bathroom.” Both are equally effective.
I imagine there are mounds of antique spinach or asparagus on faded china somewhere out there still. But the passing of time has made us as parents smarter, and vegetables are not the scourge they once were. It is now possible to get a child to eat vegetables.
The Vegetable Name-Change Difference: Have You Tried Calling Them Something Else?
A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, but a vegetable by another name changes everything — or so says a study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Students who chose servings of hot vegetables with enhanced names almost doubled over a two month interval.
More than 1000 children from seven New York Elementary schools were given the option to choose veggies with creative and colorful names such as “Silly Dilly Green Beans” or generic names such as “Food of the Day.” The proportion of students who chose servings of hot vegetables with enhanced names almost doubled over a two month interval.
The concept behind the idea is simple marketing: if you wish to sell something you must make it attractive to the buyer. Colorful vegetable names seem to promote the “buying effect” among children, according to research published by Brian Wansink Ph.D. in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. The strategy is to get kids to choose foods that are more healthy. And that can help to reduce child obesity!
Choosing the new names for these foods used an equally simple approach, and pricey marketing folks need not apply. A sixteen year old high school sophomore, Matt Klinger, was the mastermind behind food names such as “Bad Bean Burritos” that would appeal to his peers. Matt collected data for a part of the study and also received high school credit for his efforts.
Researchers suggest that the approach might be used in the home setting, as well. Perhaps those marathon sessions at the dinner table can be resolved with a bit of rebranding by Mom. “Star Wars Green Beans” anyone? Easy strategies to nudge kids in the right direction are posted on the “Smarter Lunchrooms Movement” website.
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Photo: Mother Jones