Looking for patterns in food consumption among elementary school children, researchers at Texas A&M University found something interesting about when and why kids choose to eat their vegetables. After analyzing plate waste data from nearly 8,500 students, it appears there is at least one variable tending to affect whether kids eat their broccoli, spinach or green beans more than anything: what else is on the plate.
In short, kids, are much more likely to eat their vegetable portion when it’s paired with a food that isn’t so delicious it gets all the attention. When chicken nuggets and burgers, the most popular items among schoolchildren, are on the menu, for instance, vegetable waste tends to rise significantly. When other less-beloved foods, like deli sliders or baked potatoes, are served, the opposite seems to happen.
The problem has been blamed, at least in part, for the deteriorating diets of American youth. It has also been on clear display ever since the government updated, in 2013, its nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program. Children, suddenly confronted with vegetables on every plate (as required as part of the change), have responded not by eating them, but by leaving them on their plates — untouched.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nine out of 10 children still don’t eat enough vegetables.