By Connie Evers MS, RD, LD – Nutrition for Kids
Connie’s Healthy Eating Blog – Lessons from Smarter Lunchrooms
Learn how simple changes at school & home can lead kids to healthier food choices
Would you like fruit with your lunch?
According to Adam Brumberg, Deputy Director of the Cornell Food & Brand Lab, asking
this simple question in the school lunchroom can have a big impact on how much fruit kids take and eat. Offering two choices of a fruit or vegetable is even better. “Kids given a choice between carrots and celery ATE 91% of the vegetable taken vs. 69% when carrots alone were offered,” according to Brumberg.
This is just one example of the research conducted by the Smarter Lunchroom Movement (http://smarterlunchrooms.org). Director Brian Wansink, Ph.D. is a food psychology pioneer and author of the bestselling book, “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.”
I recently met Adam and heard him speak about smarter lunchrooms at a school nutrition meeting sponsored by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. While many of the principles of the smarter lunchroom may seem like common sense, the team at Cornell employs scientific methodology to find the most effective ways to steer kids towards more nutritious choices at school.
Among their findings:
Schools sometimes attempt to eliminate all but the most healthy food choices. This is a mistake. When kids feel that nutrition is forced upon them, rebellion is the predictable outcome. Instead, offer a wider variety of healthier foods (more fruit, veggie, low-fat dairy, and whole grain choices) while limiting the number and variety of less-healthy choices.
Keep Healthy Food Up Front and Center
Moving the salad bar from a cafeteria wall to the center of the cafeteria results in a 200-300% increase in daily salad sales. Likewise, putting more nutritious lunch choices at the beginning of the line prompts students to make healthier choices.
Make It Look Good
Instead of hiding fruit behind a stainless steel counter, place it in a colorful fruit bowl. Attractive, visible and accessible merchandising of sandwiches, yogurt, salads and other better-for-you choices ups the odds that they will land on the lunch tray.
Give Foods Fun, Catchy Names
In one cafeteria, when the same “bean burrito” was renamed “Big Bad Bean Burrito,” sales shot up by more than 40%. Sales of carrots doubled when they were renamed “X-Ray Vision Carrots.”
IDEAS FOR FAMILIES
The good news is that families can apply the smarter lunchroom principles at home. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I used some of these same ideas with my own three children to promote better eating habits.
I recommend you DO try these at home:
1. Place healthy foods at eye level to your children. What do your kids see first when theywalk into the kitchen, peek inside the pantry, or open up the frig? If you have easy-to- reach healthy choices at eye level to your child, the odds are much greater they will choose a nutritious snack.
2. Offer healthy foods in a easy-to-eat form. Cut fruits and veggies into bite-sized chunks and place on a colorful plate (or ask kids to help arrange in a fun pattern).
3. Offer kids an “appetizer” of fruits and vegetables prior to dinner. I would often set out a bowl of grapes, pineapple chunks, apple slices, grape tomatoes, pea pods, broccoli florets or baby carrots nearby my three kids. Without even saying a word, the bowl would be empty and the kids would still have an appetite for dinner.
4. Think up fun names for healthy foods. When my son was small, he loved asparagus because he thought up the name “Aspara-Grandpa.” (My father’s name is Gus.) A common parenting trick is to call broccoli “trees” and the celery/peanut butter/raisins combo “ants on a log.” Expand your food vocabulary to include Power Pineapple, a Super Bowl of Soup, or even a FitClub34 Feast (with plenty of green foods, of course).
5. When introducing a new recipe, first try serving it as a side dish alongside a favorite entree.
6. Re-frame healthy foods as choices. Before you make a meal, ask your child if they would like broccoli or cauliflower, yogurt or milk, brown rice or quinoa, or grilled chicken or baked salmon.
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