What will make you eat your fruits and vegetables?

fruits and vegetables, hand pouring oil over broccoli

Now that you are adults, you don’t have to hide your peas in the mashed potatoes or fly green beans to your mouths on airplane forks. You can just eat. However, it seems that many of you are not being good little girls and boys and eating what is good for you. It’s hard to make good choices when fruits and vegetables are so yucky. But university researchers think you might eat better if food names had more appeal.

When you eat out, you often have several vegetable choices. You can get a salad, buttered corn, a mysterious “vegetable medley,” and perhaps the vegetable of the day, which is almost always broccoli. Would you choose one of these as a side dish if you also had the option of mashed potatoes, bacon mac and cheese, or French fries? Apparently, most would not. That’s why researchers are recommending spicing up the names of vegetable offerings to make them more enticing to diners.

Roasted food names seasoned to perfection

Grocery stores know better than to advertise their produce sections as “Yucky Fruits and Vegetables.” Instead, you might see signs for “Fresh Lettuce,” “Sweet Bell Peppers,” “Crisp Cucumbers.” These may entice you to buy the product, but it may not get you to eat it. However, one study tested a theory that food names motivate people to eat healthier by spicing up the offerings in university dining halls.

Students were given food choices like “twisted citrus glazed carrots,” “tavern-style grilled asparagus,” or “sizzlin’ vegetable skillet.” Because the crave-worthy names sounded enticing and even decadent, students made healthier choices more often. Perhaps we could try the opposite by naming unhealthy foods for what they really are: “starch-heavy pasta,” “thick-thigh cheesecake,” or “artery-clogging breakfast platter.”

I’m not fooled

If getting people to make positive choices is as easy as giving the options more appealing names, more industries should try this. The exercise industry, for example, should stop calling their workouts “fat burning.” It already has the word “fat” in it, so that’s a turnoff right away. And the word “burn” implies hard work and . . . pain.

But you can’t fool people forever. Thirty seconds into a workout is going to bring pain no matter what you call it. Vegetables are still going to taste like vegetables even if you dress them up with adjectives. I can’t imagine someone in a restaurant ordering “twisted citrus glazed carrots,” taking a bite, and complaining, “Hey, wait a minute! This is a carrot!”

Ugly food, beautiful idea

The need for beautiful and enticing food causes 10 million tons of wasted produce each year. Grocery stores won’t purchase imperfect fruits and vegetables, and even the USDA has strict beauty standards, called grades, for produce.

However, a group of savvy college students in Maryland understood that hungry people don’t care how pretty their food is. From their movement, the Food Recovery Network, sprang Imperfect Foods. Their company buys imperfect produce from farmers and sells it directly to consumers for far less than what they would pay for beautiful fruits and vegetables.

In fact, “ugly” food is now gaining popularity among thinking people who do not need to be hoodwinked by food descriptions. Consumers who are also health conscious have discovered that misshapen fruits and vegetables taste just as good (or bad) as pretty ones, and purchasing imperfect foods reduces the amount of food that would go to waste. Besides, once you chop it up and smother it in twisted citrus glaze, who cares what it looked like when it came out of the ground?

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