Healthy food choices for kids: make canteens smarter

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 26th October 2010

A new study by Cornell University suggests that the simplest way to persuade kids to make healthy food choices in school canteens is to make them easy and appealing.

In one set of schools examined, sales of fruit increased by 100% when it was moved to a colorful bowl. Salad bar sales tripled when the cart was placed in front of cash registers.

The conclusion of six different studies with over 11,000 middle and high school studies show that psychology and economics might be better than outlawing tasty food.

Other successful changes included:

  • Decreasing the size of bowls from 18 ounces to 14 ounces reduced the size of the average cereal serving at breakfast by 24 percent.
  • Creating a speedy “healthy express” checkout line for students not buying calorie-dense foods like desserts and chips, doubled the sales of healthy sandwiches.
  • Moving the chocolate milk behind the plain milk led students to buy more plain milk.
  • Keeping ice cream in a freezer with a closed opaque top significantly reduced the amount of ice cream taken.
  • When cafeteria workers asked each child, “Do you want a salad?” salad sales increased by a third.

These findings, presented on Friday at the School Nutrition Association’s New York conference by Brian Wansink, co-director of the Cornell Center of Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN), underscore the easiest way to lunchroom choices is to make an apple more convenient, cool, and visible than a cookie.

“We’re focusing on giving Food Service Directors “low-cost/no cost” changes they can make immediately,” said Wansink.

“It’s not nutrition until someone eats it. You need to have foods that kids will eat, or they won’t eat – or they’ll eat worse” said Chris Wallace, Food Service Director for the Corning, New York School District.