New Study Finds Super Simple Way to Get Teens to Eat More Vegetables

Did you know just 2 percent of teens eat enough vegetables? A new study from Penn State University found an easy method that may greatly improve that figure.

American teens are shockingly bad at eating vegetables.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 eat between 1 1/2 cups and 4 cups of veggies each day. That might not sound like a difficult target to hit, yet just 2 percent of American teens reach that recommendation.

In that sense, veggie avoidance has become something of an epidemic among teens. This is a public health crisis for multiple reasons—one being that vegetables are essential for good health, and another being that the eating habits we establish during adolescence often follow us through the rest of our life.

That's why a new study from Penn State University that focuses on an easy way to increase vegetable consumption among teens is encouraging. Researchers at Penn State developed a variety of different herb and spice blends for use on eight different vegetables. Most school lunches include plain vegetables or ones that have simply been lightly salted or oiled. Researchers then conducted taste tests with roughly 100 students trying both the seasoned and plain versions of both vegetables and picking which one they liked best. From Penn State News:

The researchers gave the students taste tests to measure how much they liked a variety of plain versus seasoned vegetables. The plain vegetables were prepared with a small amount of oil and salt, while the seasoned vegetables were prepared with a seasoning blend specifically developed for each vegetable. For example, the corn and peas were seasoned with a blend designed to mimic the flavor of nachos. Taste tests were held for eight different vegetables, with about 100 students participating in each test. All recipes used either frozen or canned vegetables, to make them easy to replicate by the school's food service workers. The researchers found that overall, the students preferred the seasoned version of the vegetables, except for the sweet potatoes. The seasoned versions of corn and peas, black beans and corn, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, and carrots were all rated as better tasting than the plain versions.

Dietary guidelines stipulate how much fat and salt can be included in school lunches, and each of the seasoning blends utilized were specifically developed to stay within those healthy guidelines.

"Despite the fact that many of the kids hadn't previously been exposed to a lot of different herbs and spices, our results showed that they liked and preferred the seasoned vegetables over the plain ones," says Kathleen Keller, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State. "I think that if schools were to implement these simple recipes, they might have more success than if they just serve vegetables with oil and salt or nothing at all."

That translates to more nutritious diets for students and less wasted food overall. Certain herbs and spices also possess their own individual health benefits that can further increase the nutrition of a dish. For example:

  • Cinnamon is known for its ability to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
  • Cayenne pepper includes a compound known as "capsaicin" which helps increase fat burning.
  • Garlic can help prevent illness and lower your cholesterol.
  • Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce muscle soreness.

In addition to seasoning vegetables, roasting them can be a great way to enhance their flavor. STACK nutrition expert Leslie Bonci shows you how in the above video.

Photo Credit: Steve Debenport/iStock