Study: Schedule Recess before Lunch to Get Kids to Eat their Fruits and Vegetables

A study by researchers at Brigham Young and Cornell University offers a recommendation for getting kids at school to eat more fruits and vegetables: schedule recess before lunch.

Students who participate in the National School Lunch Program are required to select a fruit and a vegetable side dish with their meal, with the goal of getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. However, schools are reporting that many of the fruits and vegetables simply end up in the trash.

One key reason for students tossing the fruits and vegetables, researchers conclude, is that students can’t wait to head to recess and so don’t eat their whole meal before heading out to play. “We found that if recess is held before lunch, students come to lunch with healthy appetites and less urgency and are more likely to finish their fruits and vegetables,” said David Just, a professor at Cornell University and an author of the study.

The researchers conducted the study in a school district in Orem, Utah. Seven schools participated, three of which switched recess to before lunch while four continued to hold recess after lunch. For four days in the spring of 2011 and 9 days in the fall of 2011 researchers measured fruit and vegetable waste by standing next to the trash cans and recording the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that each student consumed or threw away. They also measured whether or not each student ate at least one serving of fruits or vegetables.

After analyzing a total of 22,939 observations the researchers found that at schools that switched recess to before lunch children ate 54 percent more fruits and vegetables compared to the schools that didn’t make the switch.

The study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

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