Getting kids to eat their vegetables isn’t a new problem—a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey noted that 9 out of ten children don’t get the recommended servings of vegetables. And elementary schools who’ve been mandated to include vegetables on lunches since 2013 have complained that students are leaving vegetables untouched on their lunch trays.
But researchers at Texas A&M University have found perhaps the secret to getting kids to eat their veggies—and happily. They studied plate waste from 8,500 students and found that it’s what’s paired with veggies that makes a difference in whether kids consume them or not.
Pair a cheeseburger or slice of pizza with the veggies, and don’t expect kids to even look at the salad. But put something less appetizing or popular to the kid palate, like a deli sandwich, and suddenly, vegetables don’t look so bad after all. And the opposite seems to hold true, too: favored vegetables—which tend towards the starchy, like baked potatoes—are gobbled up when entrees are less interesting.
“Pairings of entrées and vegetables are an important consideration when assessing plate waste among elementary school children,” the researchers note.
It’s one step towards lessening food waste at schools, which has garnered increasing amounts of attention. Kids aren’t going to make healthy decisions overnight, the study acknowledges, but getting them there could just be a matter of thinking one step ahead in menu planning.
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