The Secret To Better Cooking? Vegetables

By Annie Hauser

Your children might tell you that they hate vegetables, but a new study shows they rate your meal higher when veggies are on the family dinner table.

Home cooks who served vegetables to their families received better ratings for the rest of the meal and were thought to be more thoughtful than home cooks who did not, Cornell University researchers report in the journal Public Health Nutrition. Birds Eye, a producer of frozen vegetables owned by Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, sponsored the study.

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Researcher Brian Wansink, Ph.D., — who is the premier expert in the field of food and consumer behavior — said in a release that only 23 percent of American dinners include vegetables. This study should be a new motivation to make vegetables a bigger part of the meal, he said.

Wansink and his team interviewed 500 mothers with at least two children under the age of 18 living at home. Participants assessed the personality of all the women, whether they added veggies to meals or not. Next, participants rated four different meals that may or may not have included a vegetable. Respondents were also asked to describe the meal maker (mom) and then name their favorite vegetable and preparation method.

Across all four meals, the addition of vegetables made the meal seem more “complete,” “loving” and “tasty.” Almost all children had at least one favorite vegetable, though responses varied widely.

“These findings reinforce the concept that vegetables make the meal,” Wansink said. “Simply talking about how vegetables are good for you may not be enough. Thinking about vegetables as an enhancement of the main course or the meal may be a more effective strategy.” As children get older, Wansink recommends serving a wider variety of vegetables, which will help parents respond to changing tastes.

If you live with tried-and-true vegetable haters, consider these techniques to get your kids to clean their plates:

  • Give kids a say. When children choose which vegetables to eat, they are more likely to accept servings without complaint, researchers in the Netherlands found after working with 259 kids between the ages of 4 and 12.
  • Add a little crunch. When researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands gave children carrots and French beans prepared six different ways, the pint-sized testers overwhelming preferred crunchy, crispy preparations to mushy, squishy and slimy vegetables.
  • Be a good role model. Kids hear a lot of negative messages about healthy eating, but if you eat your vegetables and enjoy them, your kids are more likely to as well, says Joan Salge Blake, M.S., R.D., a nutrition professor at Boston University and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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