Americans exhibit a profound knowledge-action gap when it comes to eating healthfully – and produce is the poster child for this phenomenon. Eating fruits and vegetables is consistently among the top behaviors that consumers say are healthy.(1,2) They even say they are trying to eat more!(3) Yet, more than 80% of Americans don’t consume enough.(4)

Dissecting The Disconnect

Behavioral research helps connect the dots as to why consumers clearly intend to eat more produce, but then fail to…well, make it happen. This science is represented in the “KNOW, FEEL, DO Behavioral Framework” demonstrating that knowledge is not as compelling of a driver of behavior as feeling, and ultimately, doing.

Additional context can be found in the study, Promoting Produce Consumption with an Understanding of the Experiences People Want from Food which identified emotional (e.g., happiness, shame), cognitive (e.g., convenience, nutrient profile), and experiential (e.g., taste, hunger, satiety) domains that influence associations with food. Of all the associations identified, only one emerged as being negatively (or inversely) related to preference – “healthy”.(5)

This does not mean that, as communicators and influencers devoted to helping consumers eat more fruits and vegetables we suddenly turn 180 degrees and pretend that produce isn’t good for us. It just means that, if we want people to eat more (and we do!), we must put greater emphasis on the emotion and enjoyment of eating (“food rooted in a better mood”), as well as what they are already doing (Hacks to Habits). And be mindful of the context when using “healthy” as a descriptor so that we don’t inadvertently dissuade produce consumption.

Fruits & Vegetables: Half The Plate, But Different

Another consideration when messaging about eating more fruits and vegetables is how consumers think about and use them. While MyPlate recommends “making half your plate fruits and vegetables,” a key finding during the formative research phase of the Have A Plant® campaign was that consumers think of and incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diet differently. Therefore, it is important to recognize and understand these nuances when helping consumers eat more.

For instance, fruits and vegetables vary in when and how they are consumed:

  • Fruit is often associated with single-food eating occasions (e.g., breakfast, snack). In fact, about two-thirds of the time, fruit is consumed at breakfast or for a snack.(3)
  • Vegetables are typically served with other foods and overwhelmingly at mealtime – with close to 60% of vegetables consumed at dinner and 30% at lunch. Vegetables are most commonly eaten as a side dish.(3)

Common pairings also exist:

  • Fruit is often eaten with hot and cold cereals, as well as yogurt, smoothies, and salads.(3)
  • Salads are the top vehicle for vegetables, in addition to sandwiches and burgers and ethnic mixed dishes (e.g., Italian, Asian, Mexican).(3)

Turning Insights Into Action

Our desire to help consumers be healthier by building long-lasting fruit and vegetable habits is at the core of our mission but does not have to be baked into all of our messages and tips. Instead, we can focus on language that conjures emotions and feelings and/or builds on existing routines and habits.

Here are some ideas to start your (fruit) juices flowing as you share the Have A Plant® love:

  • Turn fruit’s sweetness into a treat.
  • Help your kids celebrate after a game with pineapple topped with “cream” (Greek yogurt)!
  • Use berries to sweeten oatmeal instead of honey.
  • Unlock the intense flavor of veggies by roasting them. Think differently about Sunday prep. Instead of washing, chopping, and storing vegetables, roast them to enjoy all week.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables in plain sight on the counter to easily grab
    and go.
  • Start with your vegetables when building your plate.
Produce for Better Health Foundation. Primary Shoppers’ Attitudes and Beliefs Related to Fruit & Vegetable Consumption, 2016. Available at:
Produce for Better Health Foundation. Hacks To Habits: A Behavioral Research Study To Bolster Fruit & Vegetable Consumption, 2022. Available at:
Produce for Better Health Foundation. State of the Plate: America’s Fruit & Vegetable Consumption Trends, 2020. Available at:
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at

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