Vegetables Step Up to the Plate in Restaurants, Yet MIA at Home

beet carpaccio by Or Hiltch

Vegetables are undeniably a huge culinary trend. In restaurants across the country, vegetables are pushing meat to the side of the plate – or completely off it.

Chefs are embracing locally grown produce and root-to stalk dining, which makes use of all parts of the plant. Vegetable-forward restaurants are popping up everywhere and gaining tons of acclaim, including Al’s Place in San Francisco, which was recently named Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant of 2015. This eatery features unique interpretations of vegetables, with meat listed under “sides” on the menu.

While restaurants are putting vegetables front and center, we don’t seem to be eating our veggies at home. Yes, vegetable spiralizers are selling like hot cakes, kale salads remain popular and cauliflower is being transformed into “rice” and “pizza crust.” These creative vegetable dishes may be popular on Pinterest, but these trends don’t seem to be making a dent in our total vegetable intake.

It’s so ironic how vegetables are suddenly the star ingredient in restaurants, yet they’re lacking in our meals at home.

Only about 4 percent of Americans meet daily recommendations for vegetables, according to a new report released by the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, a national alliance of public and private partners that includes the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
peas by Melissa
The 2015 Report Card revealed that the produce problem in this country is even getting worse. Our average intake of vegetables (excluding fried potatoes) declined 6 percent during the past five years. One major reason for this drop was tied to a decline in a vegetable side dish at dinner.
Dinner looks different these days. The growing popularity of convenience items and one-dish meals, such as pizza and sandwiches, has pushed the vegetable side dish off the plate, according to the report. Staples such as lettuce salads, corn and green beans are consumed less often and have led the decline in vegetable consumption.

Research with moms found that the main barriers to increasing their family’s vegetable consumption are different family preferences, the need for new preparation ideas and cost.

Family members often have different vegetable likes and dislikes, which makes it tough on moms, says registered dietitian Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation. “She doesn’t want to be a line cook, making something different for everybody.”

Moms also may be giving in too easily.

“It used to be: This is what we’re eating, so eat it,” Pivonka said. Now, parents don’t want the fight. About one-third of parents (35 percent) view getting their kids to eat their vegetables as a battle, just behind getting them to clean their room and stop bickering.

Pivonka said moms are hungry for ideas on what works for other moms. Involving children in growing, selecting or preparing vegetables, having vegetables cut up and ready to eat, hiding vegetables in other foods and providing tangible rewards when a child tries a new dish are the most successful approaches, yet no more than half of all moms have tried these approaches.

One thing is for sure. If you have multiple forms of vegetables in your home – fresh, frozen, canned and 100 percent juice – your family will likely eat more vegetables. Studies show that people who eat “all forms” tend to eat more vegetables.

“I think having more vegetables in school meals and snacks, as required in schools today, will expose children to more vegetables, prepared in different ways, and they’ll begin to find vegetable dishes that they like,” Pivonka says. “It will also expose them to what ‘normal’ eating is supposed to be. Finally, if other children are eating their vegetables, peer influence can play a positive role. Young vegetable consumers will be vegetable consumers for life.”

Fortunately, there are many creative initiatives such as the Food Literacy Center and Purple Asparagus that are going into schools and helping get kids excited about vegetables.

Vegetable consumption among children gets a D and the marketing of vegetables gets an F in the 2015 Report Card, so we have a long way to go.

To help get a passing grade, the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance outlines specific actions to increase vegetable consumption. These strategies include increasing accessibility of vegetables in communities, schools, worksites and on menus; effective nutrition education and promotion efforts that give people the skills and motivation to eat more vegetables; and better alignment of federal policy and funding priorities with the Dietary Guidelines of America.

Originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report’s Eat + Run blog.

Images: beet carpaccio by Or Hiltch , peas by Melissa , green beans by Sarah Jane Smith on flickr

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