I happened to come across a really interesting study that may have found an amazingly simple way to get children to eat more fruits and vegetables – Move lunchtime to after recess1.
The study, which looked at the eating habits of 1st-6th graders in 7 schools in Utah, demonstrated that children who had their recess switched to before lunch increased their mealtime fruit and vegetable consumption by 54%. This intuitively makes a lot of sense. As my wife (who is a teacher) tells me, anyone who’s spent time supervising schoolchildren during lunch knows that most kids rush through their meals so they can be the first one on the field. If a child feels they only have a limited amount of time to eat they tend to choose the more processed and highly palatable options available first. Which sadly means the healthier fruits and veggies can often end up in the trash. Conversely, if lunch is served after recess the child will be more likely to be hungry and less inclined to toss these foods away.
Perhaps the best part of this intervention? Zero cost. Speaking as someone who has never worked in a school setting, I find it difficult to see the downside of such a practice, especially if it’s just a matter of changing convention. In an environment where 60% of children do not eat their recommended daily servings of fruits and 93% don’t eat enough vegetables2, it really seems like a no-brainer that schools should be implementing this lunch/recess swap right away..
What do you think? Are there any problems with such a shift that I’m not seeing?
It should be noted that the schools studied were part of the National School Lunch Program in the US, where students are required to select 1 fruit and 1 vegetable side with their meals, so access to fruits and vegetables (at least at lunchtime) is not a problem for these kids.
- Joseph Price, David R. Just. Lunch, recess and nutrition: Responding to time incentives in the cafeteria. Preventive Medicine, 2015; 71: 27 Available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743514004599
- National Cancer Institute. Usual dietary intakes: food intakes, US population, 2007–10. Available at http://appliedresearch.cancer.gov/diet/usualintakes/pop/2007-10/#findings