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Simple Changes to School Cafeterias Lead to Healthier Food Choices


With the latest reports showing 12 million American children as obese, providing healthier food choices in schools is a top priority. Researchers from Cornell University have recently identified some very simple solutions that school cafeteria managers can use to promote the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables among their students.

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Most recently, Laura Smith, a researcher with Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, found that simply moving a salad bar to a more prominent location in a New York middle school increased the sale of fresh vegetables by 250-300%. The salad bar was moved from a location against a wall to a spot closer to the cash registers.

The move even increased the number of children participating in school lunch by 6%. "It's basic behavioral economics -- we made it easier for them to make the right choice," Smith said.

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Professor Brian Wansink found the same principle worked with fresh apples. His research found that by taking the fruit out of a stainless steel tray and placing it in an attractive basket in a well-lit area increased sales by 58%.

"The best solution is often the simplest one," Wansink explained. "Rather than penalizing a less healthy food choice, we just made the healthier item much more likely to be noticed and chosen."

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Both studies were a part of the Smarter Lunchroom Initiative, a program whose mission is to design sustainable research-based lunchrooms that subtly guide children toward smarter choices. Environmental changes can lead a student toward healthier lunch choices without significant cost to the school.

Thirty million children and adolescents eat a USDA-sponsored school lunch and almost 10 million eat a USDA-sponsored breakfast every school day, making school meals a particularly important opportunity to improve the diets and health of U.S. schoolchildren.