Veggies Enhance Perception Of Food And Cook
November 29, 2012

Study Says Veggies Enhance Perception Of Both Food And Cook

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Cornell University´s Food and Brand Lab recently released a study showing that including vegetables in a meal could positively change perceptions and expectations about both the dish and the person cooking.

In particular, the scientists were interested in finding out about the psychological motivations for adding a vegetable to a plate. Interesting enough, only 23 percent of meals currently consumed by individuals in the U.S. include a vegetable. The findings on vegetables were published in the September 2012 issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition.

“From the point of view of increasing vegetable serving and consumption, promoting vegetables may best be accomplished not in isolation but as a complement to a main course or meal. This approach is promising, given the clear implication that adding a vegetable to a meal enhances that meal in a variety of ways,” explained the writers in the paper.

“This may be an especially good tactic in families where the nutritional gatekeeper is not a ℠veggie lover´. Characterizing vegetables not merely as ℠good for you´ or as part of a balanced meal but as a flavour enhancer could motivate a meal preparer.”

The study was done in two phases, in which 22 laddering interviews were conducted along with a national survey of 500 mothers in the U.S. who had two or more children under 18 years old. In the survey, the participants were asked to grade meals that were given with or without a vegetable as well as the cooks who did or did not include a vegetable on the dinner plate. Then, the meal preparer could be described with adjectives from a list of 12 different qualities like “loving” or “selfish.” On the other hand, kids were asked to provide the name of their favorite vegetable.

Based on the results, the researchers found that dishes that included a vegetable had much higher scores than dishes that only contained chicken, steak or pasta. The scientists believe that meals are viewed more favorably when a vegetable is included since it indicates that a cook spent more time and energy in preparing the meal.

For example, a steak served alone received a score of 7.0, compared to a dish of steak and broccoli that was awarded a score of 8.08. That same dish of broccoli and steak were also given adjectives like “loving.” Similarly, the person who cooked the meal was described with positive adjectives such as “attentive,” “capable” and “thoughtful” along with a decrease of negative adjectives like “boring,” “neglectful,” and “selfish.” Interesting enough, the evaluators said that the vegetables “made the meal” in terms of boosting the expectations of the dish as well as improving the individuals´ general opinion of the cook.

The team of investigators also found out important information about children´s favorite vegetables. In particular, the researchers saw that preference for a vegetable tended to change over time. When kids were younger, they preferred carrots and corn. When they became older, however, they started to prefer broccoli. The researchers believe that with so many favorite vegetables, an increased variety could possibly boost their total consumption of veggies over time.

Overall, the scientists say that vegetables can improve the pleasure of consuming a dish.

“These two studies show new hedonic and heroic motivations for serving vegetables: (i) they increase the hedonic appeal of the meal and (ii) they increase the heroic appeal of the cook. More vegetables are likely to be served with a meal if preparers know that the addition of vegetables makes them appear to be both a better cook and a better person,” concluded the authors of the paper.