The secret to eating vegetables may lie in what we call them

Do your kids turn up their noses any time something green or cruciferous hits their plates? Or, confession time, when you’re at a restaurant, are you more likely to order the mac and cheese as a side than the carrots?

It turns out the trick to eating more veggies might be about dressing them up—not with ranch or another delicious sauce—but with some indulgent words.

Borrowing a trick from the marketing world, researchers have found that a little wordplay might help convince people to eat more veggies. Instead of simply calling carrots by their name, they are more likely to get gobbled up if you label them something like “twisted citrus-glazed carrots.” Green beans gain popularity when they’re spun as “sizzlin’ green beans and crispy shallots.” In fact, these tasty descriptors do a better job selling the veggies than pointing out their nutritional superpowers.

The study was conducted by Bradley P. Turnwald and co-authors from Stanford University in California, and the research was recently published in the academic journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Curious how they carried out their veggie research?

The researchers collected their data from a large university cafeteria during 2016. Each day, one vegetable was labeled in one of four ways. Those labels were: basic (i.e. beets, green beans or carrots); healthy restrictive (“lighter-choice beets with no added sugar,” “light n’ low-carb green beans and shallots” or “carrots with sugar-free citrus dressing); healthy positive (i.e. high-antioxidant beets; “healthy, energy-boosting green beans and shallots” or “smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots”); or indulgent (i.e. “dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets,” “sweet, sizzlin’ green beans and crispy shallots” or “twisted citrus-glazed carrots”).

The labels changed, but there were no changes in how the veggies were prepped or served.

The result? The vegetables with the indulgent labels were selected more frequently than all the others. In fact, people selected the veggies with the indulgent labels 41 percent more than the healthy, restrictive labeling, 35 percent more than the healthy positive labeling and 25 percent more than the basic labeling, according to the research findings.

One unknown, though: The authors weren’t able to discern how much food each individual ate. It is possible that people scooped the veggies onto their plate and then didn’t eat actually eat them. But, the authors point out, in general patrons eat 92 percent of self-served food in cafeterias.

So, go ahead make your broccoli feel glam by brushing it with a little olive oil and seasoning and tossing it in the oven and giving it a squeeze of lemon. It will go in as broccoli and come out as crispy, lemon-and-sea-salt-roasted broccoli, and you just may find your family compelled to eat every bite.

For your next trick? Try making a cake with cauliflower.