Convincing kids to eat healthy foods is one battle parents have fought since time immemorial and will continue to fight until time itself withers away. Whether it’s implementing a misguided “clean your plate” dinner rule or begging, pleading, and cajoling your kids to have just a few more bites of their dinner before dessert, or just straight up sneaking veggies into kid-fave dishes, ensuring children get enough of the good stuff is a source of fairly constant stress for many parents. But new research has found a simpler, kind of no-brainer way to get your kids to eat their veggies — make it fun. (And no, we’re not advocating making every meal a party or a production, so don’t worry.)
A new study published in the journal Nutrients found that kids ate more peas and carrots when these veggies were accompanied by a smiley-faced potato.
The study focused on the impact of potatoes vs. other carbs like rolls on kids’ veggie consumption, as well as the shape and seasoning of said potatoes. Potatoes or rolls were served alongside chicken nuggets and applesauce to kids aged 7 to 13, mimicking a standard school cafeteria meal.
“Getting kids to eat their vegetables is always a challenge,” lead researcher Gene Ahlborn, Ph.D., an associate professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science at Brigham Young University, said in a statement. “Potatoes not only add nutrients, like potassium, directly to the plate, but they may also help encourage kids to explore other veggies that they’re served alongside and thereby help them get closer to their overall nutrition needs.”
Notably, this study was funded by The Alliance for Potato Research and Education (yes, that’s a thing that exists). But that doesn’t mean it’s potato-ally invalid (get it?). And it also doesn’t mean you need to serve smiley-faced potatoes at every meal, much as Big Potato might want you to.
The research team, in “controlled mealtime observation,” found that when smiley-faced potatoes were served alongside vegetables on school lunch trays, there were definitely fewer peas making their way to the garbage can. “This underscores the wide-reaching impacts of school menus. We want vegetables on school lunch trays to fuel kids' bodies - not fill the trash can," Ahlborn said.
Serving up food in shapes that kids enjoy is a trick parents have employed for a while now — dino nuggets, anyone? — with fairly positive results. The drawback, obviously, is we cannot serve our children dino nuggets and fried potato smiley faces with every meal. Or at least many parents won’t cop to doing so. But now that potato science is on our side, maybe we can expect Minecraft block mac and cheese or Barbie biscuits?
The point is that parents and schools can provide healthy, well-rounded meals that provide the nutrients kids need to grow and develop without resorting to bribes, threats, or trickery…unless you think smiley-faced potatoes or hidden broccoli is trickery. Keep meal times simple, give your kid some choices, don’t be a meal-time tyrant, and your kid will get what they need and grow up with less of a chance of developing food issues.