KIDS
January 30, 2015

Kids Eat Better When...

When schools made this simple, no-cost change, kids ate more fruit and vegetables at lunch.

Here's a pretty simple way to increase kids' consumption of healthier food: Children who have recess scheduled before lunch eat more fruit and vegetables at lunchtime.

In most schools, lunch comes right before recess, and the kids can't wait to get done so they can go out and play. Who can blame them? But this seems to be at least one reason why the fruit and veggies on their plates are as likely to end up in the garbage as to be eaten.

Fruit and vegetable consumption at seven elementary schools in Utah rose 54% when children went to recess before lunch instead of afterwards.

Three of the schools moved recess to before lunch, while four schools continued to hold recess after lunch. Researchers measured fruit and vegetable waste by standing next to the trash cans and recording the number of servings of fruit and vegetables that each student ate or threw away.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that in the schools that switched recess to before lunch, children ate 54% more fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetable consumption actually went down in the schools that didn't switch.

The Utah study findings only add up to an increase of about 1/6 serving of fruit and vegetables per student. This is certainly an improvement but still leaves a lot that is wasted. Apparently there are a few other problems in the school lunch system.

Getting U.S. schoolchildren to eat more than a third of a serving of fruit and vegetables with their lunch may require bribery.

On a somewhat brighter note, another study suggests that cutting the food into smaller pieces and giving children more time to eat, as well as having a quieter cafeteria, can also help.

The scheduling switch is a no-cost way to improve kids' nutrition and make the school lunch program more efficient. Recess has already been found to help kids learn better at school.

Students participating in the National School Lunch Program are required to select a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables with their lunch. This regulation is intended to get them to eat more fruit and vegetables. However, many schools have reported that more than half ends up in the trash can.

Making sure that schoolchildren get fruit and vegetables with their lunch doesn't mean that the children will eat them. Scheduling recess before lunch seems to be one part of the solution.

The study appears in Preventive Medicine.

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