What If Elmo Could Get Your Kids to Eat Broccoli?
I recently re-embraced vegetarianism. I was vegetarian for a long time in my twenties (even vegan for awhile before my love of cheese overcame my desire to liberate farm animals) and have always been ambivalent about meat. Even as a child, I was ambivalent about meat. So I decided to just go back to my veggie roots and embrace my true vegetarian self. A new era of veggie-centric dining was dawning in my household! Huzzah!
I figured that it would be an easy transition -- Emilia has been more or less vegetarian since she first began eating solids (she prefers tofu to hot dogs, and you couldn't pay her to eat a chicken finger) and Jasper has never met a pasta dish that he didn't love. And it has been easy, except for this problem: They both dislike vegetables. Well, most vegetables. Corn and tomatoes and the occasional sliced cucumber are okay, but corn's not really a vegetable (is it?). Nor is tomato, for that matter. Fruit is fine -- fruit is sweet -- but veggies? No, thank you. Pass the macaroni and a side of bread.
Obviously, this was a problem before I decided to push the vegetarianism, but I guess that I thought that with my renewed commitment to a vegetarian diet and the bigger and more diverse stock of wonderful, crunchy, fresh-from-the-local-farm veggies in our refrigerator and pantry, there would be a sudden awakening of my children's inner vegetable enthusiasts. Bright, crispy stalks of asparagus? Steaming tangles of spaghetti squash? Fresh, sweet sugar peas? How could they not fall in love?
They didn't fall in love. So it was with some considerable interest that I read this news at an Economist blog: apparently, a study conducted by Sesame Workshop shows that kids are more likely to eat broccoli if it comes in a package with an Elmo sticker on it. According to the study:
Findings from Sesame Workshop’s initial “Elmo/ Broccoli” study indicated that intake of a particular food increased if it carried a sticker of a Sesame Street character. For example, in the control group (no characters on either food) 78 percent of children participating in the study chose a chocolate bar over broccoli, whereas 22 percent chose the broccoli. However, when an Elmo sticker was placed on the broccoli and an unknown character was placed on the chocolate bar, 50 percent chose the chocolate bar and 50 percent chose the broccoli. Such outcomes suggest that the Sesame Street characters could play a strong role in increasing the appeal of healthy foods.
The writer of the Economist post argues -- in jest, I think -- that the findings prove that the study was flawed. What kid chooses broccoli over chocolate, Elmo's considerable personality notwithstanding? But you don't have to argue the point with me: I see how my kids react to foods branded with licensed characters. Every time we go to the grocery store, I see it. And every time, we have a conversation about how Elmo or Big Bird or Dora or one of those infernal Princesses doesn't make food taste any different, that the crackers with no character on the box are just as good as the ones with the character, etc, etc.
But what if Elmo could get my kids to eat their broccoli? Wouldn't I want to take advantage of that?
I was intrigued enough that I actually scavenged around the house today, looking for Elmo stickers to stick on the cello-wrap on the cauliflower in the fridge, or perhaps on one of the red peppers (no broccoli today, unfortunately). All I could find were Hannah Montana stickers, and those made me hesitate. We're trying to quietly discourage Emilia's fascination with Hannah Montana, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to go there. That, and I'm almost certain that my husband would toss whatever vegetable he found adorned with Miley Cyrus's manic grin. What price my children's willingness to eat vegetables? I balked a little when Jessica Seinfeld exhorted us all to trick our kids into eat veggies by blending them up and putting them in cake -- trick my kids? how could expect them to ever love peppers if they only ever ate them unknowingly? -- so how could I happily embrace pitching them vegetables with a licensed spokes-monster? And wouldn't this undo everything that I've been trying to teach them -- at a very rudimentary level, admittedly -- about being media and commercial savvy?
Then again, if it gets them to love their broccoli ...
I'm stuck. I'm tempted to experiment with this, to see if it works. But if I do, am I putting myself on a very slippery and complicated slope that will pitch me -- and them -- into a pit of mixed messages about media awareness? Or something?
What do you think? What would you do? If you wanted them to like it would you put a sticker on it? (*All the single veggies/ all the single veggies/ All the single veggies/ all the single veggies ...*)