Food Pairings May Increase Kids’ Vegetable Consumption


A new study from researchers at Texas A&M University may have found a way for parents to get their children to eat the recommended daily servings of vegetables — and limiting children’s food choices may be the secret.

Tech Times’ Katrina Pascual writes that the report, published in Food and Nutrition Sciences in August, studied the waste from 8,500 elementary school students and discovered that pairings of entrées and vegetables can be significantly important.

For example, if pizza is paired with veggies, the pizza will probably be eaten, but the vegetables will not. But pair vegetables with something that has less appeal than pizza, like a deli sandwich, and it is more likely that the child will eat more of the veggies.

Dr. Ariun Ishdorj, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University, led the team and observed that burgers and chicken nuggets, both popular entrées, contributed to the wasting of green beans and other not-so-popular vegetables. But the least amount of waste was experienced when a veggie, like an oven-baked potato, was paired with an entrée.

“Understanding entrée/vegetable pairings may assist schools in serving tasty yet nutritious meals while maintaining high program participation rates and staying within constrained operating budgets,” wrote the researchers.

Not only are parents concerned over poor vegetable intake by their kids, but food waste is also troubling for schools using the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), since the new nutrition standards have resulted in increased waste and less participation.

Psychologist Traci Mann of the University of Minnesota has suggested that the strategy of serving only veggies on a student’s plate could work.

“This strategy puts vegetables in a competition they can win, by pitting vegetables against no food at all. To do that, you just eat your vegetables first, before any of the other food is there. Eat them before other food is on your plate.” Mann explained.

The most popular pairing for kids is a hamburger and tater tots, but even that meal results in about 26% waste, on average, according to the research. For this reason, the study’s observations are a better gauge for how vegetables can be appetizing in different contexts than as an example of which pairings will lead to the least amount of waste, writes Roberto A. Ferdman of The Washington Post.

Dr. Oral Capps, Jr., one of the study’s authors and an AgriLife Research economist and professor of agricultural economics, said the pairing idea just makes it a little more difficult for kids to make the wrong choices and a little easier to make correct choices. The result in cafeterias was that the pairings more than quadrupled the amount of vegetables consumed, writes Leah Gardiner for West Texas News.

The Indiana University South Bend Preface’s Lila Blake writes the CDC reports nine out of 10 US children did not eat enough vegetables in the years 2007 to 2010, so that trend probably remains stable. The CDC explains that the amount of whole fruit children ate increased by 67% from 2003 to 2010 and that the amount of fruit juice children consumed decreased by almost one-third from 2003 to 2010.

Experts, says an article on the site, recommend that most fruit come from whole fruit rather than juice.

Almost 60 million US children attend day care or school and that is where their food experiences can affect their health and lifelong food choices.