Serving a side of broccoli may be all it takes for others to think you’re a more loving mom with better cooking skills. Researchers from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab tested mothers’ perceptions of vegetables at the dinner table, and found they said more about the mother than the meal itself. The study, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, may encourage moms to serve up a healthy helping of vegetables at dinner on a daily basis.

"Simply having a vegetable on the plate made the whole meal be perceived as tastier," said the study’s lead author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, in a press release. "Even if they didn't particularly like the vegetable."

The research team asked 500 American mothers to rate five commonly prepared dinner dishes. The meals included lasagna, steak, or chicken with sides, like potatoes, broccoli, or breadsticks. Simply including vegetables in the meals caused the mothers to believe the entire dish would taste better — they also believed the server was a better chef.

In the second phase of the study, the same 500 people were told two different stories about a woman named Valerie. On a typical day, she woke up, went to work, ran errands, made dinner for her family, and watched television with her husband before going to bed. In the first version of the story, Valerie served frozen green beans with her dinner, while in the second version the green beans were excluded.

Afterwards the mothers were asked what they thought about Valerie. If she served green beans to her family, the mothers were more likely to describe her as “thoughtful,” attentive,” and “capable.” If she left the veggies out, the mothers were more likely to describe her as “neglectful,” selfish,” and “boring.”

Neglectful Valerie is not alone. In fact, 23 percent of dinners served to families in America are served with vegetables, according to the Food Lab’s findings. If parents are finding the hurdle isn’t getting veggies on the plate but instead getting their kids to simply eat the veggies, another recent study published in the journal Preventive Medicine may have the answers.

The study found that kids who have recess before their lunch period were 54 percent more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables than kids who ate before recess. The researchers in the study tracked 2,500 kids’ eating habits and measured how many fruits and vegetables were being thrown out on a daily basis. Exercise may prior to eating may be the key to healthy lunch and dinner habits.

The researchers believe the reason for this is that if recess comes after lunch, and a child runs out of time during their meal, they’ll sacrifice their fruits and vegetables for more play time. It may also be that they work up an appetite during recess that's then satisfied by eating the healthy foods on their plate just as much as the others — if recess is after lunch, they might not prioritize heathier foods.

A child who grows up with vegetables on their dinner plate is more likely to have a healthier appetite as an adult. Getting a child to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of developing heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers later in life, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By encouraging kids to exercise, play outside, or participate in after school sports, kids will be more likely to eat healthy foods while reducing food waste. Ultimately, the inexpensive encouragement of exercise could kill two birds with one stone.

"If families want to eat more vegetables, dinner's the place to start," said Dr. Wansink. “If you serve vegetables at dinner, not only will your family think you're a better cook, they'll also think you're a more loving parent. Within two days of discovering this, I changed the way I cook. I no longer say I'm too tired to make a vegetable. If nothing else, at least I open up a can of green beans."

Sources: Wansink B, Shimizu M, and Brumberg A. How vegetables make the meal: their hedonic and heroic impact on perceptions of the meal and of the preparer. Public Health Nutrition. 2015.