By Mike Pomranz
Updated October 12, 2015
© david cruickshanks / Alamy

Everything is relative. That applies to space and time…oh, and vegetables too. Though not quite a breakthrough of Einsteinian proportions, researchers at Texas A&M recently observed that one way to get kids to eat their vegetables is to serve them alongside foods they like even less. Time to break out the lima beans!

In a study entitled “Investigating the Relationship between Food Pairings and Plate Waste from Elementary School Lunches,” scientists analyzed “plate waste” data from nearly 8,500 elementary school students. The results showed that kids ate more of the side vegetables they didn’t enjoy, such as dark-green leafy vegetables like broccoli, when these offending foods were paired with less popular entrees, like deli sliders or baked potatoes. Meanwhile, vegetable consumption dropped when kids were given a main course they liked, such as chicken nuggets.

The opposite effect happened, too: Students ate less of their entrée when the “vegetable” option was something more appealing like tater tots or french fries. If there were a way to make those quotation marks around the word “vegetable” as it refers to tater tots any bigger or bolder, we would. Thus, the researchers suggested, “Understanding the dynamics of food pairings and providing desirable entrée and vegetable pairings can help reduce waste from school lunches.”

Traci Mann, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, has discussed similar strategies in the past.The Washington Post quoted her as saying that people often eat more vegetables when we put “vegetables in a competition they can win.” Turns out you can use the same strategy to get your kids to eat foods they don’t like as you did to boost their confidence in Little League.