To Promote Veggies, Ask Not Why But Why Not

Market day in Avignon
Creative Commons License photo credit: levork

Jane Brody of The New York Times found it puzzling that even benefits don’t tempt us to vegetables and asked readers to offer fresh ideas. Her article got me thinking!

Hmmm…let us see. If someone told you to do something because it was good for you, you would probably try it a few times but pretty soon you would go back to what you are used to. And who wants to be good all the time? Even kids grow out of the naughty or nice trick after a while!

It is no different with food. Fun and a sense of indulgence trump the notion of good in the long run. And yes, both convenience and cost are very important. If you don’t believe me, simply take a look at how the purveyors of fast food and soda advertise their products. McDonald’s tagline of “I’m Lovin’ It” and Coke’s “Open Happiness” seem to be permanently etched in our subconscious and their jingles resonate inside our heads all day long. It is not about the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of their products, rather the experience of having them is the core of their message. Plus, they make them readily available everywhere at a reasonable price.

Before I jump into a few ideas for promoting veggies, let us consider some of the reasons why most people don’t eat enough vegetables. Here is how a few of my Twitter friends responded to this question:

Gina @ginarau had this to say:

Many factors: accessibility, ease of convenience foods. Price is a biggie. Taste for kids. Lack of positive role model.

Registered dietitian Alysa Bajenaru @InspiredRD said:

Many people I talk to have only had them prepared one way, don’t think they like most veggies. They need 2 learn how 2 cook. My husband thought that he disliked many veggies when we got married. He was used to them being served bland and overcooked. Now he loves most veggies, especially roasted. I am making him butternut squash pizza right now!

Christina @CutestKidEver shared her experience:

I can’t stand the taste and texture of most vegetables. They literally make me gag.

There could also be a case of the “supertaster” shared by @80Bites:

My little boy is a “supertaster” and tastes something bitter in vegetables I don’t experience. It’s genetic…

Registered dietitian Linda Michaelis @linda_rd pointed out the bad image of veggies, especially among kids:

It’s probably bcoz they think veggies taste horrible. Most kids see a red flag when green and leafy are on their plates. 🙂

There you have it! Clearly, it is not enough to preach the goodness of veggies and hope that people will start eating them at every meal. That approach, in my opinion, is a very defensive approach easily overcome by the enormous offensive marketing by food companies. I also think that most academics and nutrition experts alike fall into the trap of talking about the benefits of veggies, rather than taking a holistic view on this issue.

Every marketer knows about the 4P’s – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. What is often missing from this analysis is the People, the end consumer for example. Now I am sure every marketer worth their salt will claim that they always start with the consumer, but their view is often tainted by what they want to sell rather than what the consumer really wants to have. They look at the world not as what it really is, rather what they would like it to be.

Take for example, the matter of Price. If the marketer focuses only on the price tag, they are missing the view on the total cost to the consumer. In case of veggies for example, here are some of the different “costs” or barriers to consumption:

  1. Cost of getting them – driving to the grocery store or a farmer’s market
  2. Cost of selecting them – many choices now available in fresh, frozen and canned veggies
  3. Cost of buying them – this is what the consumer pays at the check out
  4. Cost of storing them and keeping them fresh – refrigerator space, cabinet space
  5. Cost of preparing them – recipes, ingredients, cooking time, cooking space, cooking utensils
  6. Cost of eating them – eating on the go, family meals
  7. Cost of enjoying them – taste, food/wine pairing, company of family/friends
  8. Cost of making a habit – breaking current habits

Conventional wisdom will have you try to improve availability and offer a convenient ready-to-eat packaged product at a low cost. If you were feeling a little more adventurous, you would add some salty and buttery sauce to improve the taste. But taking the conventional approach does not help you lower all of the barriers or costs and promote consumption of veggies no matter how loudly you proclaim their benefits.

Here are a few somewhat unconventional ideas to get people interested in veggies. Big business, government, community groups and educators have a role to play at different levels.

  • Why not teach people how to produce veggies by starting a small garden in their backyard? They already spend a lot of time and money growing flowers!
  • Why not actually give them incentives like discount coupons or lower insurance rates to further sweeten the deal? Don’t worry, people are not going to turn overnight into farmers and stop going to the grocery store. In fact, they will actually start thinking about how to include those vegetables in their meals and may want to try other type of veggies from the store or a farmer’s market.
  • Why not establish community farms where people could rent a small space and grow veggies? Supply them with tools, knowledge and support to help them succeed.
  • Why not encourage them to share their harvest with each other to sample many different types of veggies without having to grow them all at a time?
  • Why not offer them a deal where they can take some of their harvest to a grocery store and exchange it for another fresh produce of their choice?
  • Why not teach people how to cook veggies in many different ways? Campbell’s has done it really well with their soups, how come the Green Giants of the world do not provide recipes on their products?
  • Why not strike a deal with the makers of spices and sauces to co-develop products and do cross promotion?
  • Why not offer free workshops on vegetable gardening and cooking? Home Depot and Lowes do it for household building projects. They even have workshops for kids!
  • Why not introduce children to the wonderful world of fruits and veggies by products like Today I Ate a Rainbow!TM?
  • Why not produce coloring books, bed time story books, toys, puzzles, catchy videos with memorable jingles for kids to enjoy?
  • Why not include interesting trivia, puzzles, collectibles or other incentives on product packaging? Cereal boxes have tons of information to keep you occupied while you eat.
  • Why not appreciate and recognize a child who brings a lunchbox with veggies and other healthy items to school? Make them feel like a “star”, why not?
  • Why not look at farmer’s markets as a collaborator to expand the category of veggies and not as competition?

I could go on and on…

It is time to give up on conventional wisdom. Don’t ask Why?, ask Why not? Only then, can we overcome the barriers and make vegetables a prominent feature on every meal. Veggies and fruits need to become a way of life, not just something good for us to eat!

What do you think? What are your barriers to eating more veggies each day and how we can overcome them? Please share in comments below.



  1. This is a fantastic post! I love the ideas that you present about bringing farm fresh concepts to people’s backyards. I agree with the need to shift from conventional “wisdom” – ideas that are out of the box will be what creates a new generation of people concerned about what they put in their bodies!


  2. This was a really great post, I really enjoyed it.

    I like your suggestions. I think people really need to learn what good, fresh, freshly picked produce tastes like. There are a lot of misconceptions that suggest vegetables can’t taste great on their own. Unfortunately these misconceptions may keep people from trying those vegetables prepared in a better way, since past experience leads them to assume that it won’t taste good.

    Your conventional, ready-to-eat package reference reminded me of the Baby Carrots “Eat ’em Like Junk Food Campaign”: . I don’t necessarily agree with this approach. Do we really need to trick consumers into thinking something is “like junk food” to get them to eat it? Why not get more people out to farmers markets to taste food that was just picked — it tastes a million times better — and learn to like produce as it IS, not because they are associating it with a bag of chips.

  3. thanks for sharing brody’s article in NYT! My idea? Make vegetables relevant to kids. How? Make a connection between real food and their activities both physical and academic. Don’t eat an apple because it’s good for you. Eat an apple because it’s got glucose in it and your brain runs on glucose. Why does a kid care about his brain running? Because he’s got spelling words to get right, multiplication tables, etc. My kids’ elementary school just launched our Eat to Learn program where we will spend the year connecting fresh produce and real food to activities kids care about. Thanks for all you do to help families nourish kids! Read more here :

  4. Something else I thought of and wanted to share!

    During my Dietetic Internship we did a lot of encouraging kids to try new types of fruits and veggies. In most cases the HARDEST part was just getting them to try them in the first place. Once they did, many kids seemed surprisingly pleased.

    One of the biggest barriers we faced here was the attitudes of parents and peers. If a mom was with the child and turned up her nose at the veggie, the child was more than likely to do so herself. The same idea in classrooms — if one kid of the room yelled loudly “EW, I HATE *insert vegetable*,” other kids would be apprehensive about trying it.

    Kids will be kids, but it was the parents’ attitudes that often bothered me. Parents’ attitudes toward foods have a huge impact on their children. I think parents who themselves are very open about trying new foods and incorporating a variety of produce in their diets will raise children who do so themselves. Parents, teachers and other people who major role models in the lives of children should work to set a positive example for the children they inspire by living and eating healthily themselves.

    • Hi Emily
      Parents do have a very strong influence on their kids. It may be that they are not aware of it when they act that way. Parents need to change for sure, but first they need to become aware and make a commitment. It is my belief that no parent wants to knowingly make unhealthy choices for themselves and their kids. I also think that the tide is turning – so many parents, both moms and dads, are getting involved. They want to get credible information on health and nutrition. They want to get their questions answered. We all have to come together and help each other out with our own experiences and knowledge.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  5. Kia

    I think this is a fantastic post with some very actionable ideas! I think there are a number of factors that have lead to vegetables being given such a bad reputation:
    1. Texture sensitivity – raw usually is the best when it comes to veggies, because even if slightly overcooked they become mushy and for those with texture issues that is not good!
    2. Bad childhood experiences – being forced to eat vegetables can leave a long lasting negative association.
    3. Taste – our taste buds are so accustomed to lots of sugar/salt/fat in more processed foods
    4. Convenience – we’re all so busy these days that healthy food like vegetables can take a back seat to quick and cheap fast food

    So what is the answer?? I think one solution is to change the way we use information. Rather than just telling people to eat vegetables because they are good for you, rather than endless studies with pages of written stats…lets focus on ACTION. I believe that in order to take action you need tools. For example a brilliant surgeon can only be effective at saving lives if they have their tools, otherwise they are just really knowledgeable people.

    We all “know” that eating vegetables is good for us…but clearly just knowing that isn’t working when you look at the growing obesity rates!

    There are some great apps, websites, and products that are working to give people the knowledge AND the tools they need to start setting healthy eating habits in an enjoyable way!

    Thank you for writing such an insightful article…I am sharing it with everyone!!!

    • Excellent suggestions Kia! I agree when you say that our taste buds have been dulled by too much salt, sugar and fat. We have cut down on salt when we eat at home. And we ask for low salt when we eat out at a restaurant. We can now taste the excessive salt in snacks and other processed food. Same for sugar. It is simply unbelievable how much salt and sugar is used in processed foods.

      Thank you for pointing out that we need to ACT, not just talk and build our knowledge. There are so many ways in which we can encourage people to experience fruits and vegetables. Together, we can make it happen. Big business, government, community service organizations and schools have a role to play. And so do parents. Like it or not, they are the role models for their kids.

  6. As a father of three girls who (for the most part) could care less that I’m a dietitian, I learned long ago to drop the “N”utrition word when introducing veggies or any “new” food to them. The health-value of a food rarely passes my lips at home but boy, do I go on and on about how yummy the dish is that I’m about to prepare for them.

    Take tonight for example. I was busy typing away about food when I realized I had not prepared for tonight’s dinner. I read an article in the NY Times earleir today about “Spaghetti Tacos” that iCarly creator Dan Schneider came up with. I thought that was a really cool idea. I ran it past the girls who responded, “Yeah…we saw that on iCarly. Can we have those?”, like they were asking permission to drink a bottle of chocolate syrup or something. “Of course you can have them and you can pick what else you want to throw on them, too.” The girls decided they wanted edamame and Mexican cheese as “condiments”.

    So we cooked up a box of Barilla Plus pasta (uber high in protein and contains a sneak-attack of beans in the recipe) and found the chunkiest pasta sauce we could find to mix in with it. I added in extra chucks of tomatoes, too. So between the bean fortified pasta (beans are a vegetable), tomato sauce, extra tomatoes and edamame, we had a veggie loaded dinner without ever uttering “how great it was that we were eating vegetables” or “how healthy this dinner was”. All the girls and I cared about in the moment was how fun and enjoyable it was.

    We will have spaghetti tacos again without the “n”utrition word being uttered or any conversation about health – it is an unspoken undertanding. My advice? Focus on taste and enjoyment and bring the veggies along for the ride.

    • David: what a wonderful way of getting kids interested in food! Thanks for sharing your story and advice.

  7. Thanks for sharing this article with all of us. I am a father of twins and a dietitian and I struggle with the professional knowledge and real world application of getting my kids to eat more vegetables. I have to be honest, there are meals when my kids eat no vegetables. I offer them vegetables but they are sometimes left on the plate. But as I’ve written on this site before, my job is to expose my children to healthy foods and it is their job to eat them.

    I agree with so much of what’s been said already. We need to change how our kids and how society perceive vegetables. It is about finding the joy in trying new foods and realizing that eating more vegetables isn’t just about steaming another side of broccoli or eating more peas.

    Here are some things that continue to work for me and my family
    1) Take a kids to a farm and meet a farmer.
    2) Bring your kids shopping at the grocery store and let them pick out a new vegetable to make for dinner
    3) Read blogs like this one to help give you creative ideas on how to cook vegetables.
    4) Join a CSA so you get fresh, seasonal and local vegetables in your house on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.

  8. Great post and great questions. I am working on trying to make veggies ‘sexier’ and more appealing to people. I think many people have been scarred by ill-prepared veggies.

  9. Emma Stirling

    Wonderful collection of highly practical ideas. Definitely agree with taking the “n” out of nutrition. As a dietitian parent I try very hard not to be the family food cop. In fact I think my kids got more treats in the early years than their peers with health aware parents. I tried to approach treats in a very neutral way and role model the alternative….yes you can have that ice cream but Mummy is having something different. And surprise, surprise it wasn’t long before they were asking for a plump, Queensland sunkissed, juicy mango like mummy for afternoon tea, instead of a sweet biscuit. And my Miss 8 now gets excited when globe artichokes are in season, just like her mother. I let her slather them in far too much butter, salt and pepper on the first few tries, but now she’s hooked and I know will moderate the way she eats them into adult life. The power of role-modelling is not to be underestimated.

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  12. Victoria

    My parents were from rural Arkansas, where I grew up (Tomato, AR — and no, I’m not making that up!) Even before I was born, my family raised a garden — usually about an acre. From the time I could walk, I helped with planting, tending, and harvesting. It’s such a great feeling for a kid (even an adult) to see the actual fruits of their labor. When you work and take pride in something, you have a much greater appreciation of it. And growing stuff is just plain fun! Plus, I’ll bet the vast majority of people these days have never had the experience of picking a vegetable right off the vine and eating it fresh. There’s nothing like that. I realize that’s not a really viable option for a lot of people, but with the exponential growth of farmers markets, those people can get very close to the “fresh off the vine” taste. I just put in a couple of raised beds this year, and I’m growing several tomato varieties in containers. It’s a labor of love with a delicious payoff. I hope more people get the experience.

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