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Working Up An Appetite At Recess Gets Kids Eating Fruit and Veggies

Kids eating school lunch
USDA/Lance Cheung/CC

Researchers have found an easy way to get school kids to eat their fruits and veggies at lunch—serve it after recess.

As more school lunch programs add fruits and vegetables to their menus, they’re finding many of them end up in the garbage. As NPR’s The Salt has reported, kids throw away anywhere from 24 to 35 percent of what's on their trays.

David Just, a behavioral economics researcher at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, and his collaborator Joseph Price at Brigham Young University theorized that kids may need an appetite booster to ensure they are hungry for lunch—including the fresh produce portion. The research team studied seven elementary schools that were willing to make a change in their school schedule--- offering recess first, then lunch.

“We ended up getting about 23,000 observations on kids and what they were eating and there was about a 54 percent increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables,” says Just. “That’s 54 percent of kids that are now consuming a serving of fruits and vegetables that weren’t before and that’s a pretty large change.”

That increased food consumption is good news for students who are getting more of the fresh nutrients they need to stay healthy. There may be a lesson here for parents as well, says Just. Offer kids a snack after a game or outdoor play rather than before, he suggests, and they’ll be more likely to say Yes to strawberries or carrot sticks, rather than begging for sugary snacks.