A dash of cumin or dill might help convince high school students to load up their plate with vegetables during lunchtime in the cafeteria, a small study from Pennsylvania State University in University Park suggests.
Researchers got about 100 high school students in rural Pennsylvania to taste a variety of plain vegetables seasoned with just oil and salt and then try the same vegetables flavored with different spice blends. Participants rated how well they liked each dish and then indicated whether they preferred the plain or spiced up recipe.
Students liked broccoli, cauliflower, vegetable dip and black beans mixed with corn better when recipes included a spice blend, the study found.
When forced to choose between plain vegetables and vegetables seasoned with spice blends, teenagers preferred the spicy versions for corn and peas, broccoli, vegetable dip, black beans with corn, and cauliflower.
Kids fall below vegetable intake recommendations
“Vegetable intake is still so low in adolescents and adults, and they are so important for health, so we really still need to be working harder at either making vegetables tastier or encouraging people to purchase and eat more vegetables,” the researchers noted.
Teen girls should eat four servings of vegetables a day, and teen boys should eat five, national guidelines recommend. One serving of vegetables is considered one cup of leafy greens, a half-cup of cooked or raw veggies, or three-fourths of a cup of unsweetened vegetable juice.
Barriers to eating vegetables
Most students surveyed at the start of the study said the taste, the serving size, and the food’s appearance were “very important” characteristics of school meals.
Roughly 75 per cent of students said disliking the taste stopped them from eating vegetables. More than half also said they didn’t like the vegetables served in school.
Most students were familiar with spices like cinnamon, garlic powder, black pepper, chili powder, oregano and basil. Very few, however, were familiar with cumin, allspice, curry, and sage.
The students tasted different vegetables, sometimes plain and other times with added spices, during lunch periods on different school days. Cafeterias served canned or frozen vegetables similar to what they would normally prepare for school lunches.
One limitation of the study is that participation was voluntary, and it’s possible that students who agreed to sample different vegetables had different preferences or opinions about veggies than the kids who declined to participate.
Researchers also didn’t test whether a stronger preference for vegetables with spices translated into teens actually eating more vegetables.
Still, the approach tested in the study would be a low-cost and easy strategy to try in school cafeterias because it’s using products that are already staples of school lunch programs.
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