The Secret Power of 'X-Ray Vision' Carrots

Kids will take kitchen towels and turn them into capes. They'll take a box and turn it into a fort. They'll invent secret clubs and give each other crazy nicknames. Imaginative sponges that they are, they're good at transforming something simple into something magical.

But a new study shows that creativity can translate to the plate. Simply givng vegetables catchy names increases the odds that kids will eat them, a new study shows. Research from Cornell University finds that fun names can warm kids up to the idea of downing the foods that are good for them, reports Live Science.

The Cornell study had two parts. In the first, 147 students aged 8 to 11 from five different schools were observed as they made their daily routine through the school lunch line. For three consecutive days, carrots were added to the schools' lunch menus. Depending on the day, though, carrots had different names. On day one, they were unnamed. By day two, they were called "Food of the Day" or "X-Ray Vision Carrots."

Based on the amount of carrots kids ate, names seem to make a significant difference. Kids ate 66 percent of the "X-ray Vision Carrots" but only 32 percent of the "Food of the Day" and 35 percent of the unnamed carrots.

The second part of the study examined a larger group of students--1,552 kids at suburban schools in New York. For the first month of the study, both schools added carrots, broccoli and green beans to their cafeteria menus without giving the veggies special names. The following month, one of the schools got creative, calling the veggies "X-ray Vision Carrots," "Punch Broccoli," "Tiny Tasty Tree Tops," and "Silly Dilly Green Beans."

The difference was huge: At the school where veggies went by their plain Jane names, vegetable sales dropped by 16 percent. At the other school, where veggies got catchy names, vegatable sales were up 99 percent.

In a public press release, Brian Wansink, lead author of the study and professor of marketing at Cornell, says the study's results have positive implications for schools.

"This research suggests that schools have a low-cost of even no-cost solution to induce children to consume more nutritious foods," he said.

Given the range of ages among children in the study, Wansink also says that his research proves that using catchy names for veggies "works on individuals across all age levels."

The study isn't the first to suggest that cheap fixes could entice children to choose carrots over Cheetos. In 2010, the New York Times  published an illustration that demonstrated how a simple rearrangement of lunchtime offerings could redirect kids to foods that are good for them: Place chocolate milk behind plain milk, store icecream in a freezer with an opaque top, and place veggies at the front of the lunch line, not near the end.

Given that schools are still trying to figure out how to keep new, healthy fare from filling up garbage cans instead of students, the simple fixes are worth a shot. 

What cheap changes do you think would help kids eat healthier at school? Let us know in the comments section below!

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A sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, Megan likes writing about food almost as much as eating it. If you don't want to know what's in your fruit/milk/meat, don't invite her to lunch. @babybokchoy |