Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Power of Words

Here’s a recipe to encourage your family to eat more vegetables: Just add adjectives. Well Blog, 11.29.07
Succulent, Hearty, Delicious…the power of words to describe food is well known to restaurant critics and Food Channel stars. But you may not realize how much it influences the way you and your family eat. Research shows that how you present and describe the food affects how much people will opt to eat and enjoy it. Presenting a steak as “juicy” starts the salivary glands going, which sure enough, makes the steak taste better. The inverse happens when you plop down a dish and say "leftovers" or declare that "might be overcooked.” Your family hears "oh, yuck.” Your apologies and low expectations are working against you.

As corny as it sounds, children seem to especially love interesting names for food, even beyond the classic technique of calling broccoli “trees.” Dr. Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating,” found that “power peas” were way more popular with kids that just plain old green peas. He was even successful in getting kids to drink and enjoy tomato-veggie juice drink when he called it a “Rainforest Smoothie.” Descriptive, mouth-watering names for food encourages kids and adults to be more willing to try the food and to be more likely to enjoy it. Major food companies use this technique; you should too.

I definitely fall into pattern of criticizing the meals I serve. If the dish didn’t turn out just as I planned, I lament about it at the table. As a chef, there is some benefit of talking through mistakes. After reading this research though, I see how it detracts from the meal and sets up the wrong dynamic. You can unwittingly open up the gates of criticism from your family. I might be able to say the chicken is dry, but I’d rather not have my kids say it too! And since I expect them to eat whatever I serve, I shouldn't give them easy excuses for not doing so.

So be proud of what you are serving; come up with a creative or delicious-sounding name, if you can. If you messed up the dish, it’s still dinner and it’s certainly not going to taste any better with extra scrutiny. The power of words might just save it!

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