Adding flavor to vegetables with herbs and spices could encourage school students to eat more of them according to new US research, resulting in a healthier diet and also less food waste in schools.
Carried out by researchers at Penn State University, the team asked high school students age 14 to 18 at a Pennsylvania public school to rate how much they liked a variety of vegetables that were either plain or seasoned with a blend of herbs and spices.
The team carried out eight different taste tests, with one vegetable in each, and recruited volunteers during the school lunchtime.
Around 100 participants took part in each taste test, with some students taking part in more than one test.
Participants were asked to try a plain version of the vegetable, prepared with a small amount of oil and salt, and a seasoned version, which was prepared with a blend of herbs and spices specifically created for each vegetable.
The researchers found that overall, students preferred the seasoned version of every vegetable, except for the sweet potatoes.
The seasoned versions of corn and peas, black beans and corn, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, and two versions of carrots were all rated as better-tasting than the plain versions, even though many of the seasoning blends were new to the students.
“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,” Kathleen Keller, associate professor of nutritional sciences.
“When we talked to the students, we learned the most important thing to them when it came to eating vegetables was the taste,” said Keller, adding that the results not only have implications for schools, helping them to encourage healthier eating and reduce food waste, but also for parents.
“I’m a big proponent of not being afraid to use herbs and spices, even with young kids or toddlers,” said Keller said. “Even with baby food you can add small amounts of herbs or spices, so they’re getting used to the flavors of the family. If you’re going to be using these things in the foods you make for your family later on, it doesn’t make sense to avoid them when kids are little.”
Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 eat between two-and-a-half and four cups of vegetables a day, however according to the researchers around only 2 percent of American adolescents eat enough.
The results can be found published online in the journal Food Quality and Preference.