Ad critique: Chef Boyardee

Working Mother, August/September 2010
Until this happens, keep the secret.
Kids may never love veggies this much. But they love Chef Boyardee. And
even though there’s no broccoli, there is a full serving of vegetables in every bowl of
Chef Boyardee Big Beef Ravioli. Just don’t tell them.

Disney Family Fun, November 2010
Behold the mythical veggie-loving kid.
Sadly, he doesn’t exist. So until he does, there’s Chef Boyardee Big Beef Ravioli,
with a full serving of vegetables in every bowl. Just don’t tell them.
Obviously delicious. Secretly nutritious.
Those are some cute kids with some massive veggies! Any kid who can’t read will see these and not notice the can of Chef Boyardee. All they will think is, “Hey, if he hugs his broccoli and the other boy likes his carrots, maybe I should try some.” This is exactly the type of veggie advertising we need, minus the Chef Boyardee stuff.
It’s funny to see ads with the product minimized at the bottom. The can doesn’t do much for me and I’m betting most moms aren’t rushing out to buy canned stuff for their kids. Linking it with wholesome veggies is clever. I didn’t eat spaghetti-o’s as a kid, but my mom did try to sneak veggies into foods. She made zucchini bread even though my sister hated zucchini. So my mom called it “Z bread.” It’s all in the branding, right? Inevitably someone slipped up and said “zucchini bread.” My mom tells us that my sister recoiled in horror from the bread, mid-bite. Disgusting zucchinis…that I was enjoying until you said the “z” word…
I think the choices of “broccoli” and “carrots” in the ad are a bit off. Sure, many kids don’t like broccoli, but carrots? Carrots seem pretty popular with kids. I’m sure that the Harvard MBAs who wrote and designed this ad researched which veggies they needed to feature. If the kid was hugging kale, now that would be surprising.
What veggies does my son hate? Well, cooked kale and raw spinach. But overall I find that it varies by the day. Sometimes he’ll eat a few cubes of potatoes, other times he won’t, and then another day he’s eating them again. He went through an I-love-broccoli-must-eat-it-every-day phase, but now that love affair is cooling. I have to be careful not to over-offer. For example, one Sunday he ate a massive breakfast (a whole cup of yogurt, half a waffle with syrup and probiotic juice) and just two hours later a semi-large snack of half of Mommy’s KIND bar. Then at lunch he barely ate anything, but had fun playing with teeny-teeny sandwiches. I tried not to stress about it and not push food on him. His eating depends on how much he ate at a previous meal or snack, how he is feeling and if he is teething. (Before having my son, no one warned me about “teething.” Well, that sort-of blindsided me!) I find what he refuses to eat is usually not about the food, but all about his attitude!
One time my husband was clearing the table after dinner and casually took my son’s plate away, saying “I’m going to feed the rest of this to the dog.” My son screamed, “Nooo!” and grabbed the plate back to eat the last two bites. We were stunned by this and once we recovered, my husband decided this was a great way to get my son to finish, or at least eat a bit more of, his dinner. So at dinner when we think that he could benefit from a couple extra bites (this happens maybe twice a week) and we’re cleaning up, we tell our son that his food is going to the dog. He freaks out and eats a bit more! It’s probably not what the experts would recommend, but it’s a useful little trick!
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45 thoughts on “Ad critique: Chef Boyardee

  1. I think my kids are those mythical veggie loving kids. Neither of them have been presenting with a veggie or fruit they didn't like. My oldest is almost 5 and my youngest is almost 3.

    Ravioli however…neither of them will touch it. Even when it is fresh.

  2. My child HATES potatoes and is luke warm on carrots. She won't eat potatoes mashed, boiled, hash-browned, or baked. Its totally weird, but I am not going to FORCE her to eat potato.

  3. It's so annoying that the ad calls them mythical veggie loving kids! I was a veggie loving kid, and most of my same aged friends and cousins cheerfully ate everything that was put in front of us, and most of our meals where a good 80% veggies and grains. It just bugs me because it's like it's telling people not to even try giving kids fruits and veggies because of *course* kids will refuse them.

  4. I am not a fan of these ads for two reasons: 1.) I wholly disagree with sneaking veggies into foods. I think we should teach kids to eat veggies as veggies.

    2.) The photos (the visual rhetoric, if you will) plays on stereotypes of children in general and boys in particular as being anti-veggies, which I find upsetting in the same way that I find visual stereotypes of men as sports-obsessed slobs and women as long-suffering neatnik harpies upsetting. It's an irresponsible shorthand, if you ask me.

  5. As a foreigner I often wonder how a country as yours can claim to be great and still not even be able to feed its children in a decent way.
    Chris, from France

  6. I absolutely agree that it isn't usually the good they are saying no to, but whether they have the right attitude at that meal time. And you are right, my kid loves carrots with ranch dressing. I suppose, the advertisers were thinking of vegetables that were bright and easy to display artistically… Those are my 2 cents. Thanks for sharing!

  7. You know, I use to think Chef Boyardee was the ultimate cool food. I didn't eat veggies (should I admit this) until I was…after 30. What NOT to do: my parents put my veggies on a separate plate, so I knew it was not like the rest of the "good" food and they would make me finish it…so I sat and sat and waited it out for 2 hours then crumpled it up and threw it away when they got tired of me looking. I didn't eat veggies for years. And now. I really like them (not all, but many). Sounds like you guys found a trick!

  8. I am going to feed the rest of this blog to the dog! …hmm, it seems to have not inspired Mrs. Q to post any more content. Dang.

  9. I've found getting children to eat veggies is all about the presentation and spicing. If you over cook them until they look washed out and soggy, who would want them?

    My girls love trays with veggies, fruit, and just a little cheese or peanut butter. I just have to make sure to slice the food to a workable size. I used to think my eldest didn't like celery until she told me it was just too hard to eat. I started slicing the ribs into strips, and she gobbled it up. With cooked veggies, find their favorite spices, and you'll usually have happy eaters.

  10. I always thought that moms were supposed to be naturally good at hiding veggies, whether in spaghetti sauce, zucchini bread, etc. I don't think they need help from Chef Boyardee!


  11. as a toddler, my little sister probably would have hugged the broccoli if you handed her a piece big enough. There is a picture of her holding a piece of broccoli up and grinning, though. All of us loved steamed broccoli – in retrospect, probably because it was one of the few things we always got fresh. Growing up we ate a lot of canned vegetables – corn, peas/carrots, the dreaded green beans. Broccoli was always fresh. As an adult, I've found that a lot of veggies I hated as a kid (like green beans) I love now, but only fresh. It's the canned taste I can't stand, not the vegetable itself. And I still love steamed broccoli 🙂

  12. My 2-year-old has had a love-affair with green beans forever – she will even turn down ice cream and cookies for green beans.

    What I don't like about these ads is that, yes the image is cute, but the message to ADULTS is not helpful. Parents shouldn't just assume their kids wont eat vegetables – try it out. You never know, you could have a kid like mine!

  13. Interesting ad campaign. I thought it might have been for ranch dressing, because it is similar to some of their commercials where kids will eat veggies if drenched in hidden valley ranch.

    I'm not around little kids very often, but my 4 year old niece loves raw veggies. Carrots, red bell peppers, cucumbers, broccoli. We often laugh at this fact because her mom (my sister) hates veggies. Normally you hear of the opposite: the mom will eat veggies and the kid won't.

  14. There are a lot of things that are useful parenting tricks that the experts would not recommend! I've always used the desert bribe. My kids are actually veggie lovers and seldom refuse any food offered to them. That doesn't mean they don't prefer the less healthy things tho. So, if I want to encourage a few more bits of something healthy, I hold desert hostage. I'm not in running for Mom of the Year, so I do what works. Most of us do!

  15. There is absolutely nothing nutritious about Chef Boyardee (secretly or not). And the veggie connection is pure deception. I blogged about this campaign's commercials back in October:

    It was part of a post on hiding vegetables, which I think is a really bad idea (and which generated a really interesting discussion in the comments).

    Put veggies in everything, OK, but tell kids what's in there. Otherwise we teach kids that veggies are something to be endured instead of enjoyed. And that's a missed opportunity to get kids loving veggies on their own merits.

    Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat

  16. Forgot to add: This business of the "mythical veggie-loving kid" and whatnot is just insulting. Seriously insulting. To kids and parents and good food and good sense.

    Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat

  17. @MommyLisa – I never got over my potato aversion – and it turns out to be a good thing. Hate potato chips and fries, too!

  18. I have a hard time understanding that kids might not like veggies. Mine do, and I do try to be open minded about this because maybe other kids are simply different. However, we like them in our house. Obviously children can't be expected to like all vegetables equally (adults don't either). However, my 11 year old, who is the pickiest in the family, is actually the biggest champion of spinach and broccoli. And I often send him to school with a cut up carrot in his lunch.

    I'm not a big fan of hiding veggies in food. A lot of the recipes in the Jessica Seinfeld book don't add sufficient quantities to make any nutritional difference that I could tell. It's a neat idea maybe, but I'd rather focus on frequent exposure.

  19. Harvard MBAs don't generally write and design ads- creatives at ad agencies do. In which case, there likely wouldn't be much research on which veggies to feature at all (coming from the ad industry myself).

    I hated veggies as a kid, but my parenst would always make me eat at least three bites no matter how much I protested. Fortunately I was also spoiled with homemade pasta sauce, so I also hated the orange sauce in Chef Boyardee.

  20. I think worse than the idea of making kids thing vegetables are to be endured rather than enjoyed (nicely put, Christina) is the idea of saying the solution is a can that contains more salt than tomato. (I may be exaggerating, but not by much.)

  21. I really agree with Melanie's comment above, especially her second point about stereotyping. I hate marketing in general, and get really irritated at how the sexes are stereotyped in ads (and sitcoms, and movies, etc.)

    When my daughter was 2 or 3, she couldn't get enough cauliflower. That lasted a couple of months. Now, at 10, she dislikes it. She prefers most veggies raw, although I recently found that steamed broccoli goes down better for her if it has parmesan cheese sprinkled on it. Most of our veggies are cooked from fresh, which I do think helps with the taste so much, for both kids and adults.

    Kids are so funny –they'll like something for a while, and then act like they never liked it at all! Really, I think all this gets easier too, as they learn to express more complex feelings about things –like the commenter above whose child needed the celery cut into smaller pieces. With young kids, it's sometimes hard to know why they're rejecting a food.

    And in my opinion, bribery, rewards, and faking giving food away to the dog are all perfectly good parenting techniques when used in moderation.

  22. Well, I guess it would be hard to show the kid hugging the high fructose corn syrup, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, caramel coloring and "flavorings" that are actually in the can….

  23. I've never understood "kids hate broccoli". Don't all kids like eating baby trees?

    And sure, my nieces aren't a huge fan of carrots (unless they're in cake form), but they will *eat* them – good thing, too, as I grate them and add them to EVERYTHING.

  24. As an adult who LOVES chef boyardee, my first thought was "awesome! veggies in something that i planned on eating anyway!". Point being- who cares if moms or companies *hide* vegetables in things? I say hide them in everything! That doesn't mean you have to lie about it, though. But if you have to hide them to get your kids to eat them, do it! More vegetables is more vegetables, right? If I'm going to eat spaghetti sauce, might as well put in some nutrition? Yes, kids need to learn to eat them for themselves. But for moms that have SUPER picky kids, are you going to not hide vegetables and deny your children added nutrition because of the hurt pride of "hiding" vegetables?

  25. Cheers to Melanie! I agree. The perpetuation of dumb, sloppy commercial men and bratty, messy commercial kids HAVE to stop. If these commercials were 100% accurate, grown women would be the only intelligent beings out there, and (all jokes aside) it infuriates me that what might have begun as humor has become a full-blown stereotype in advertising. My grandfather was the first person to point it out to me, and now it drives me crazy). I am regularly offended on behalf of all the intelligent responsible men in my life (and there are many of them).

    And the "mythical" veggie loving kid? I've seen these ads in my magazines too, and they make me so angry! I was a mythical child! I can't remember a veggie I DIDN'T like. My brother and sister? Crazy about broccoli and peas. Another sister would probably survive on a diet consisting solely of carrots if we let her. I am ok with adding veggies/whole grains into the food I cook (spinach regularly works its way into my pasta sauce, and oatmeal is a common addition to pancake batter). I am ok with not informing kids that the meal they are inhaling contains a "hated" ingredient. I did this with one sibling regularly. When they get older, they'll accept it as a dirty trick and laugh at your sneakiness. But if you let them in on the joke when they're little, they won't connect the dots. Just immediately think the meal they loved is now yucky (such as Sister Q's zucchini issue). Whatever it takes to get them to eat right, do it. Offer them veggies straight up whenever possible, but if they're on a "no veggies, nohow" kind of kick, then all's fair in love and health.

    BUT, I'm sick of corn and tomatoes being counted as servings of vegetables. If Chef Boyardee included things like carrots and spinach into their pureed sauce, I might give them this claim. But since the "servings of vegetables" in question are A) fruits and B) do not contain enough assorted vitamins/nutrients to require no further variety, I'm not down with this claim.

    Carrots are good. So is broccoli, spinach, and even tomatoes. But eating strictly one vegetable and no other kind is not giving you the sort of variety that we require in our diet, so even if CB ravioli contained sauce that was 100% broccoli, I still wouldn't support this claim. What I would support? "Chef Boyardee ravioli has a full serving of TOMATOES in every bowl." Not veggieS. Tomatoes. That's truthful advertising. Is "tomatoes" as appealing as the word veggies? No. Is it more honest? Yes.

  26. I have three boys and they have always loved veggies, but then I love veggies. They will eat broccoli, peas, grean beans, brussell sprouts, cabbage, pretty anything you can think of.

  27. This is really clever marketing. The ads are really cute. But instead of getting me to buy the product, it just gave me the idea that I can make vegetable ravioli and cover it in tomato sauce, which is something I know lots of kids love. Call it square spaghetti or something!

  28. Mommy Lisa, I also have a kid who doesn't like potatoes in any form! He's eaten just about every vegetable I've ever offered him except potatoes. As a baby he loved pureed sweet potatoes, but not mashed potatoes. Fortunately I don't cook potatoes often.

    I dislike these ads too and find their suggestion of a "mythical veggie-loving kid" who "doesn't exist" quite offensive. I completely agree with what Squirrel Leigh says above. I've never bought Boyardee and don't know what's in them (I suspect overcooked pasta in slimy sauce with bits of mystery meat, lots of salt, lots of sugar or more likely HFCS, guar gum or xanthum gum, corn starch, preservatives, natural and artificial flavours and very little fibre), but if I had a kid who didn't like veggies, I doubt if I would consider this product to be a good substitute to eating real food with actual veggies.

  29. Toss the kale with a little EVOO and some sea salt and pepper and roast it for 7 min on each side. The kale is crispy and yummy

  30. I should submit pics of my girls (aged 3 & 5) I took today. We picked up our CSA box and right away the girls grabbed the broccoli and started eating it. Then they moved on to the red carrots and ate 3 before sitting down. Over all, they're pretty good veggie eaters, but not huge fans of leafy ones. They love frozen peas, brussel sprouts, artichokes, beets, etc.

  31. I agree that ads like this feed into the stereotype that kids don't eat veggies. My kids eat veggies, but I've always offered them and never assumed they wouldn't eat them. It took son #2 over 6 months of seeing broccoli on his plate before he decided to try it. You just never know when they'll decide to try it if you don't offer it!

    Just wait Ms. Q until you have kid #2! Then it becomes a competition over who is going to eat their broccoli first!

  32. LOVE this – Chef Boyardee ads are one of my biggest pet peeves right now. Bad enough they are trying to come off as "healthy food" but I really resent the whole "keep veggies a secret from the kids". We should be having our children embrace fruits & veggies – society needs to stop treating our children as food idiots! Thanks Mrs. Q. – just discovered you today & am very thrilled with the work you are doing – can't wait for your book!!

  33. My boyfriend is 41. The only vegetables he likes are potatoes (but only if they're whipped or fried) and steamed broccoli. He will not eat corn, green beans, carrots, or any other vegetable, thanks to his mom who boiled and oversalted everything.

    He has told me that he would frankly rather starve if veggies were the only food left on the planet. Good thing we don't have kids, or I'd be hard pressed to try & convince them that vegetables are good…

  34. Mrs. Q,

    I just checked the CNN article. Close to 5,000 people recommended that article on facebook. That speaks VOLUMES.

  35. You guys. There's no veggies in the ravioli. Some of the commenters seem to think it's like snuck in or something. Chef Boyardee is talking about the tomato sauce counting as a veggie. Which, I don't know about you, but that's no veggie in my house.

  36. I think "secretly nutritious" is exactly what's wrong with our food and eating habits. We don't know what's in our food and we don't know how to cut through the marketing and make good choices ("we" being the average American.)

    And the veggie-loving kids just don't exist line? Give me a break.

    BTW carrots are the first veggie my kids learn to make themselves. I bought several chunky peelers (designed for older people with arthritis) and they peel their own!

  37. The second poster is interesting to me. Our son would only eat fruit, that's it, FRUIT, till we grew a garden, he even helped start the seeds with me. Our son was two and a half and happily munching on baby lettuce leaves, pulling carrots out of the ground and plucking cherry tomatoes off the vine. I checked a book out once about how to puree all these veggies and hide them in kids favorite recipes…good grief, who has time? I agree with one commenter up there, why hide the veggies, they need to learn to eat them, and grow them too!

    There ARE veggie loving kids out there!

  38. My boys have LEARNED to love veggies over the past decade because as a mom, I've presented them in fun and appetizing ways. They love a variety of foods, and the notion that veggie-loving kids is some sort of fantasy, baffles me. There are plenty of kids out there who enjoy veggies. Consider this: It takes more time to cook, puree, and then sneak veggies into everyday recipes than it does to "market" vegetables to kids. Mrs. Q: I think your "feed it to the dogs" strategy to ignite your child's interest in what's on his plate is a great idea. When my boys were young, I used to do a similar thing: I'd tell them, "if you don't want your carrots, I'll have to give them all to dad." It definitely got them excited about taking a few nibbles.
    Hiding veggies does not "teach" our kids to try and then like veggies. And that's one of our many jobs as parents (add to the list: potty training, riding a bike, learning to read and write, saying "please" and "thank you," etc).

  39. Wow – my daughter would be considered "mythical" if solely based on this ad. HAHA…weird!
    It makes me happy to know that if given the chance…she would pose for a picture just like the boy with the broccoli above. She LOVES her veggies – especially broccoli!

  40. My kids are good veggie eaters. I've never tried to hide the veggies from them. From the time they were able to eat table food, I gave them an identical plate to mine, just in the appropriate portion size. It was never a big deal, it was just what we ate. Of course there are some that they like more than others, and some that they really don't like, and that's o.k. They just know that they are required to at least taste, before they say they don't like or want something.
    We just need to teach our kids, and parents, that there is more to eat than just nuggets and fries!

  41. I take issue with this! My 7yo and 5yo both love veggies. They request brussels sprouts with dinner. They eat raw green beans from the garden. And I attribute this to serving them veggies repeatedly since they could eat solid food. They didn't like them at first…persistence is key. We need to stop with the lazy parenting, already.

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