WELLNESS
09/30/2015 03:47 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2015

A Surprising Trick Gets Kids To Eat Veggies, No Bribing Required

No begging, pleading or praying necessary.

Parents, you can stop positioning broccoli as little trees and arranging pepper slices into edible hearts. To get kids to eat more veggies, take a cue from a new study and plate the greens next to a food your kids hate even more. 

With limited options, kids will eat more vegetables, according to research from Texas A&M University.   

Diana Haronis dianasphotoart.com via Getty Images

It may seem cruel, but the trick really could get kids to eat more of the healthy stuff.

Researchers stumbled across this finding during an analysis of food waste at schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. They discovered that when more popular main dishes were served for lunch -- things like burgers and chicken nuggets -- the plated vegetables often went untouched and into the trash. When less favored entrees such as "deli sliders" or baked potatoes were paired with vegetables, there was a significant decrease in vegetable waste and, presumably, an increase in veggie consumption (unless, of course, the kids were storing broccoli stalks in their pockets for future diorama projects). 

The same effect happens when the favored food is the vegetable: Starchy vegetables like fries and tater tots, both beloved by kids everywhere, often beat out main dishes that are less palatable. The only problem is that these starchy vegetables don't contain many of the nutrients that their non-starchy counterparts do. And when they're fried, well, they kind of lose the credibility of a vegetable

Food pairing isn't the only route parents can take to get children to eat greens. As The Washington Post notes, when vegetables are served individually -- without competition -- they're more likely to be consumed.

Serve vegetables first, before other food is added to the plate, and they will be eaten, psychologist Traci Mann told the Post. While serving lone vegetables isn't a realistic lunch option for most public schools that are pressed for time and resources, it's a lesson that can be applied at home. 

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