The Secret to Getting Kids to Eat More Fruit at School

by Sandy Todd Webster on Jul 21, 2015


One of the more popular criticisms of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which allowed the USDA to make drastic reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs, has been that kids don’t like what they’re being served and therefore a lot of food is being thrown away—especially fruit.

But a new joint study from Brigham Young University and Cornell University in Preventive Medicine (2015; 71, 27-30) has given many pause, especially because of its simple logic. What if you let the kids run around (remember recess?) before the fruit is offered? It turns out that fruit and vegetable consumption increases by 54% when proffered postactivity.

"Recess is a pretty big deal for most kids. If you have kids choose between playing and eating their veggies, the time spent playing is going to win most of the time," said lead study author Joe Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University. "You just don’t want to set the opportunity cost of good behaviors too high."

The study sample involved seven schools in a Utah school district (grades 1-6). Half of the children in the sample qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch. Three of the schools switched recess to before lunch, while four schools continued to hold recess after lunch. For 4 days in spring and 9 days in the fall, researchers measured fruit and vegetable waste by standing next to the trash cans and counting the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that each student consumed or threw away. They also recorded whether or not each student ate at least one serving of fruits or vegetables.

After analyzing 22,939 data points, the researchers concluded that in the schools that switched recess to before lunch children ate 54% more fruits and vegetables. There was also a 45% increase in those eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables. During the same time period, consumption of fruits and vegetables actually decreased in the schools that didn’t switch.

Parents, try this experiment at home!

PHOTOGRAPHY: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.