01/10/2013 03:46 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2013

Looking for Admiration? Serve Some Veggies!


I happen to be one of those people who can get seriously excited about a particularly fresh, colorful vegetable, prepared just right, or even served raw, sliced just so and dressed well. Most people aren't as eager to eat their veggies -- they're looking forward to biting into a juicy steak, or whatever is the "main" dish. Veggies are, at most, a side show.

And since most people aren't excited about eating veggies, they don't eat enough of them. Although the five-a-day campaign has been successful in making Americans aware they should be eating more fruits and veggies, only 11 percent actually do so, and while My Plate, the new nutrition guide from the USDA, devoted half the plate to fruits and veggies, only 23 percent of Americans have any vegetables on their dinner plate, according to a 1998 study.

So how do we convince people to put more veggies on the dish?

Brian Wansink Misturu Shimizu and Adam Brumberg from Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab have a new argument that can certainly appeal to moms, dads and any other food provider who wants to be a hero: Putting veggies on the plate gives the perception of a loving, capable cook.

Serving Vegetables Makes You a "Good Cook."

In their new study, to be published in Public Health Nutrition, Wansink's group asked 500 American moms who had at least two kids at home to evaluate meals. The participants assessed the personality of women who either prepared -- or did not prepare -- veggies with a family meal, and rated four different meals that either included a vegetable or had no veggies. Respondents were asked to describe the cook and to evaluate the meal itself.

They found that having a vegetable on the side made the main dish rate higher for taste: Steak with broccoli was favored over steak alone, or steak served with a starch.

This is something restaurant owners know. In professional menus sides help the main course look good -- the side helps sell the main dish -- and chefs know that dishes have more appeal if
served over, under and garnished with veggies.

But here's the most interesting part: When asked about their perception of the cook that made the meal the participants selected descriptors such as "loving" "thoughtful", "attentive" and "capable" to the meal preparers that included veggies. Mind you, preparing the veggies in the proposed meal was no more involved than heating up a bag of frozen green beans -- how's that for return on investment? The attributes selected for the cooks who served steak, chicken or pasta without veggies were more often "neglectful", "selfish" and "boring".

So this is what moms thought in a sterile study environment. Does it guarantee kids would see
it the same way? It's hard to say, but I find that eventually kids tend to adopt their parents' habits and point of view regarding food.  Being admired by other grown-ups can't hurt

Pleasure, Not Just Health

Kids hardly care about health. Making an "it's good for you" argument doesn't carry much clout, and asking kids to eat their veggies for the 1000th time doesn't make for interesting dinnertime conversation.

I found this study inspiring because it demonstrates that serving veggies for hedonic reasons alone makes sense and can have a positive impact. In fact, that's how my mom got me to love my veggies. In the end, it's the pleasure of the food and the experience around it that create good eating habits. 

And speaking of pleasure, can you guess which veggies are most favored? Broccoli tops the list for most family members, except for young boys who prefer corn and carrots to broccoli. Are you surprised?

You may want your family to eat veggies for their health and weight maintenance qualities, but who can resist some adoration? Do you need a better motivation?

For more by Dr. Ayala Laufer-Cahana, click here.

For more on nutrition, click here.