In an effort to get my kids to eat vegetables, I’ve schemed, wheedled, prepared tofu sausage and spent a king’s ransom on cherry tomatoes.
But recently it occurred to me I had left at least one stone unturned.
In a world of catchy fast-food jingles and slickly packaged carbs, I wasn’t doing much to sell the product.
I turned to Cornell University applied economics professor Brian Wansink, director of the school’s Food and Brand Lab, the same guy Birds Eye went to when it wanted to raise the vegetables’ profile with consumers. Wansink, author of the best-seller “Mindless Eating,” had plenty of ideas for me.
Among his suggestions:
• Accentuate the positive: Research indicates that a person’s expectations have a tremendous influence over experiences. In other words, if you think those green beans are going to be soggy, boring and bland, you’re more likely to hate eating them. Wansink suggests you give a kid a reason to think a vegetable might be good, maybe invoking a favorite relative: “This is grandmother’s favorite recipe for green beans.”
• Cede power: Kids like power, much like their older counterparts. You can give it to them by letting them choose among alternatives: tomatoes or corn? Spinach or peppers? “It’s all about ownership,” Wansink says. “If you give them a variety of things, then the ownership becomes, ‘What do I want?’ They can still think they’re master and commander of the food situation.”
• Sell the product: Giving vegetables cool names such as “X-Ray Vision Carrots” or “Broccoli Bits” has been shown to be effective in increasing consumption, Wansink says. I felt silly when I tried this on one of my kids, an observant 8-year-old who is already raising interesting questions about Santa. But my little skeptic proved remarkably open to my obvious (and very clumsy) attempt at manipulation.
• Look for growth: You’re born with a fixed number of taste buds on your tongue, Wansink says. When you’re little and your tongue is small, the taste buds are concentrated in a small area and you are supersensitive to sour tastes and bitter tastes. As you grow, your tongue does too, and the sensitivity abates.
The bottom line: After a growth spurt, your little darling may want to give those sour or bitter vegetables another try.