In many respects, this is a marketing problem. Processed foods are readily accessible and have bigger marketing dollars promoting them. The more unique a product is, the easier it is to promote it and charge more money to eager customers. To make a food product unique, something needs to be done to it, such as adding salt or sugar or puffing it up or flattening it into a chip.
The Produce for Better Health Foundation developed a national action plan in 2005 where it outlined 80 different strategies to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. "It isn't one thing that is going to change it," Pivonka says, "it is several things across the board: Marketing, communication, education as well as making sure fruits and vegetables are available where people eat. It needs to be on menus, it's at the airport, it's in vending machines."
Making it normal
A recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found an easy way to make kids eat more vegetables. The researchers found that if you offer kids a dip flavored with spices — such as pizza flavored or ranch dip, the children were more likely to try vegetables. They even would eat vegetables they didn't like. Classifying a vegetable as "yummy" boosted it from 31 percent to 64 percent.
The "State of the Plate" study also suggested "setting out a fruit bowl; having vegetables cut up and ready to eat in the refrigerator; involving children in selecting, growing or preparing fruits and vegetables and hiding them in other foods."
The key for Pivonka is to make eating fruits and vegetables part of the norm.
"We've tried to change our discussion points here so that rather than saying, 'Oh, nobody is eating fruits and vegetables,' we try to point out the positive: Children and their parents are eating more fruits and vegetables," Pivonka says. "So when parents hear that other parents are feeding their children fruits and vegetables, they think they should too. People follow the norm."