Which one would you pick?
- Zesty ginger-turmeric sweet potatoes
- Sweet potatoes
- Cholesterol-free sweet potatoes
- Wholesome sweet potato superfood
Although you personally might go for number 3, because you’re watching your cholesterol, or 4, because you’re training for a marathon, can you guess which would be the most appealing to the greatest number of people?
And now that you’ve picked your dish, would you be surprised to learn that these seemingly different dishes are actually one and the same?
Researchers from Stanford, led by Bradley Turnwald, set out to see whether the name of a veggie dish will affect how often students pick it, and how much of it they’ll eat.
What’s in a name
During the fall of 2016 the same veggie dishes rotated through different names in the university cafeteria. For instance, the exact same recipe yielded a dish called “dynamite chili with tangy lime-seasoned beets” on one day, just plain “beets” on another, “lighter choice beets with no added sugar” a few weeks later, and “high-antioxidant beets” on yet another occasion.
The label made a big difference.
When the dish was described in the indulgent way 25 percent more people picked it over the plain description (“beets”). Pitted against the healthy, good-for-you centered descriptions the indulgent description fared even more impressively.
When the veggie was described as delicious and indulgent people also ate more of it.
According to this, a simple way to get students to eat more veggies is to borrow from the appetizing descriptions other, less healthy, food makers use.
Giving veggies a boring or an “eat this for your health” name just reinforces the false notion that veggies aren’t tasty and don’t deserve our attention for their beauty and flavor alone.
The take home message for parents and home cooks
I don’t suggest you need a menu consultant to get your family to eat their fruits and veggies, but it’s a good idea to take some inspiration from restaurant descriptions.
Grilled Gold Potatoes sound better than just potatoes, and if you described them as “grilled gold potatoes with lemony tahini and a sprinkle of thyme” it might sound even better – or way too presumptuous, your call.
In my own experience, the worst way to "sell" fruits and veggies to kids is to tell them they’re good for them. Luckily, most kids aren’t concerned about their health, aren’t thinking about aging gracefully, and are living much more in the moment: They want their taste buds satisfied.