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Taste-Focused Labels Lead to Increased Veggie Selection and Consumption

Matthew Good MS, RD, LD 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

While admittedly a complex and multifactorial system, any manager or director would agree that the success of a child nutrition program can be significantly impacted by increasing a student’s food component selection and decreasing their plate waste. Increased selection of food components within an offer-versus-serve program could help meet the minimum requirements of a reimbursable meal, thus increasing program participation and federal and state aid for the district. Decreasing plate waste directly saves on food costs and correlates with overall student satisfaction, leading to repeat business and increased meal counts. 


A cost-effective and time-efficient method of improving component offerings, specifically vegetables, may sound challenging. Could it be accomplished simply by adding a little flare to its name? That’s precisely what researchers attempted to answer in the Delicious Impressions Support Healthy Eating (DISH) Study. 

The Menus of Change University Research Collaborative (MCURC), jointly led by Stanford University and the Culinary Institute of America and including 57 colleges and universities, is a “collaboration of forward-thinking scholars, foodservice leaders, executive chefs, and administrators for colleges and universities who are accelerating efforts to move people toward healthier, more sustainable, and delicious foods using evidence-based research, education, and innovation.” In their first peer-reviewed publication, a study conducted across five U.S. universities, focused on taste-focused menu labels. 


In a brief summary of the research, vegetable side dishes were prepared and then separated into three groups, all offered simultaneously within these dining halls. For example, carrots were prepared identically, then separated for service under the names “carrots” (basic label group), “vitamin-packed carrots” (health-focused group), and “twisted citrus-glazed carrots” (taste-focused group). Results revealed that emphasizing the delicious attributes of vegetables over their health benefits significantly increased patrons’ selection of them. Astonishingly, these dining halls reported a 29% increase in the selection of the taste-focused vegetable choice compared to the health-focused labels. Additionally, actual consumption increased by 39%, as identified through plate waste analysis. 


To sum up, making vegetables sound delicious can increase both selection and consumption. 


Child nutrition programs are designed to deliver nutritional adequacy, a cornerstone of maximizing a student’s potential. Increasing participation and decreasing waste can be arduous tasks within these programs. It may be time for child nutrition programs to reflect on the language within their menus as a method of low-cost customer satisfaction and program results improvement. Best yet, there’s no need for a research team to get started. 


With the support of this ongoing research, Stanford University has developed a guided toolkit to assist the food service world in making their vegetable side dishes descriptively attractive. Edgy Veggies is available for online use or in downloadable form, both free. With a simple four-step guided process and plenty of examples to get the creative gears turning, Edgy Veggies can take your district’s menu to the next level! 


If you’ve enjoyed this article, why not take a moment to follow i3 Education on social? We provide priceless content regarding K-12 nutrition program operations and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 


Matthew is a private practice registered dietitian and freelance content provider for i3 Education, with over a decade of experience in K-12 nutrition. 

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