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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Tips On Getting Kids To Eat Produce…
But Watch Out For The Butter!

Our piece, Teaching Kids About Produce Is Better Than Sneaking Around, brought this rejoinder from an industry executive… and a mom:

I read with great interest your recent piece on getting kids to eat their veggies. I have long practiced the old adage of introducing a new item about 12 to 15 times before kids accept them, and I’m also the mean mommy who quips “This is what’s for dinner. If you don’t like it, then I guess you’re not eating tonight.”

For my kids, apparently this tactic works, because my kids eat not only salads, but veggies, some with passion and longing, like “Mommy, can we make artichokes for dinner?” or “Yeah, roasted asparagus!”

The produce department is just like any other section of the store for us, where they venture out, find a favorite, and come back and say “Mom, can we get some raspberries?” as much as they would say, “Mom, can we get some wheat thins?”.

I know I’m lucky. Maybe it’s my tactic. Maybe it’s my freakish kids. Not sure, but when the produce department is an adventure, and they’re included in the purchase and decision making process, it seems to go better than “What is this green thing?”

My point for writing is that I got very excited when I read your article mentioning the asparagus risotto recipe from Raymond Sokolov, both being favorites of my 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. I opened the recipe with excitement, only to get to the second line…”8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter”. HOLY COW! You might as well serve a snickers bar on the plate. There are better ways to introduce asparagus than adding 1 stick of butter to it.

I’m sure this is delectable, but again, holy cow. Unfortunately, my family will not be savoring this dish unless it had a make-over in Cooking Light magazine.

Keep up the good work Jim.

— Cindi Dodd
Director of Marketing
NewStar Fresh Foods

We confess that the Pundit Mom did use the phrase, “This is not a restaurant,” more than once when there were complaints from the peanut gallery about that evening’s dinner. Despite her protests though, she was careful to mostly cook things she knew everyone liked.

As the kids got older, she often did prepare two dinners: A new intriguing recipe that she and the Pundit-to-be would try — since we were the adventurous eaters — and something more basic for the rest of the family as they had more conservative tastes in food.

Cindi’s letter makes two very important points:

  • Children need to be exposed to items many, many times. You can’t introduce children to something new and determine from that one exposure that they don’t like the item. This was confirmed by a lot of the research done around the Food Dudes program, which we dealt with here, here and here.

It is worth noting that children are not unique in this. We’ve recently run pieces here and here, dealing with the merchandising of heirloom tomatoes. The key point is that consumers of all ages need to be exposed to new products many times. If Cindi’s 12 to 15 times is the correct number, it means that a once-a-week shopper may require almost four months of exposure to a product at retail before she is ready to buy it.

  • The most significant thing about Cindi’s letter is that she takes her children food shopping and involves them in that process. Many parents do not. Sometimes it is because the children are difficult in the stores, always demanding their favorites or even items they won’t even eat but that happen to have a cartoon character on them. Other times it is schedule. With both parents working, many parents now shop at night or on the weekend when the kids are either asleep or at activities.

But Cindi’s point — that used correctly, shopping is a fantastic educational opportunity — is beyond doubt. In fact, here is an idea for the Produce for Better Health Foundation: How about a national “Take Your Children Shopping for More Fruit & Veggies Day!”

We could coordinate with retailers, commodity promotion boards and the Fruit & Veggies — More Matters! program to have in-store educational materials — including videos with Emeril, Rachel Ray and other popular chefs — all teaching children how to select and enjoy fruits and vegetables of all types.

Bet we could get a Presidential proclamation and every newspaper in America to publish a guide/workbook for the event.


The butter issue is an interesting one. We confess that we too recoiled when we saw that in the recipe. We published it anyway, because the whole issue of butter and health is controversial. Panaceas that at the time were promoted as replacements — such as margarine — are generally seen as worse than the original today. Many people, such as the authors behind Why Butter Is Better, say that butter contains important characteristics that enhance the health of Americans.

Others, such as the Food and Brand Lab of Cornell University, caution that a focus on eating “healthy foods” can bias one’s perception of caloric intake and lead to overeating desserts and other indulgences:

The Health-Food Halo

Healthy foods can bias calorie estimation and cause higher side-dish consumption

Over the past 15 years, the number of restaurants offering healthy food items has increased dramatically, yet the obesity rate has increased. Why? We found that customers at Subway, in contrast to McDonald’s, were more biased in their calorie estimation of foods purchased there.

In one study, people eating Subway meals that contained the same number of calories as a McDonald’s meal estimated it as containing 35% fewer calories. People often think they’re eating healthier just because it’s advertised that way, and even end up ordering more high-calorie side dishes — like soda and cookies — that increase their total calorie intake.

So remember, just because you ordered a turkey sandwich on wheat, that doesn’t make that bag of chips any healthier. (in Journal of Consumer Research, 2007).

Most chefs seem to feel that the problem is processed food… that if we eat a diet filled with whole foods, such as eggs and butter, Julia Child Photoreal milk, etc., we will mostly be healthy. Julia Child never wavered from her belief that plentiful use of butter was fine. In one of her last TV shows, she put it this way: “If you’re afraid of butter, as many people are nowadays… just put in cream!”

We are not sure she was right — although it is a basic doctrine of nutrition science that there are no good foods or bad foods, just moderation. Which means Cindi can go ahead and serve her children the butter-rich Risotto, just not too much, nor too often.

Which actually brings up an issue for the produce trade… When the Pundit did a demo session on artichokes a number of years ago, we found many people who loved them, but didn’t want to buy them. Why? Because the only way they knew to enjoy them was by dipping each leaf in melted butter… and they didn’t want to do that.

Maybe some cross-merchandising with some equally delicious low-cal dips would give a boost to sales?

Many thanks to Cindi Dodd for her intriguing letter.

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