One of the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of Our Time?

Maybe. Maybe not. But convincing kids to eat their vegetables is an issue many parents might want some help tackling. It gets easier to choose vegetables when you deploy a team of animated characters to sell them on the good stuff, new research has found.

Miki Mushroom, Zach Zucchini and Suzie Sweet Pea appear to wield the kind of influence many moms and dads only wish they had.

Marketing vegetables in school lunchrooms using the Super Sprowtz – a team of fun-loving characters with super powers – as much as tripled the percentage of elementary school students choosing items from the salad bar, found researchers led by Andrew Hanks of The Ohio State University.

Marketing to children is controversial in some circles, but Hanks said this study illuminates its potential if done well and with the best interest of kids in mind.

Hanks and his collaborators conducted the study while he was at Cornell University in New York. They tested three interventions in 10 public elementary schools in urban New York State.

In some, they wrapped the bottom portion of the salad bar with a vinyl banner depicting the super veggies. In others, they played Super Sprowtz videos in the lunch room. And in others, they tried both tactics.

In schools with the salad bar banners, the researchers saw 24 percent of kids taking vegetables from the salad bars, almost double what they’d observed in the weeks leading up to the change. In those schools that had characters on the salad bar and on video, veggie selection jumped from 10 percent to almost 35 percent. The researchers saw no significant improvement in schools with videos alone.

The research was supported by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and Founder’s Farm.