Preserving the Environment

Should Schoolchildren Play First and Eat Second?

January 21, 2015
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Should Schoolchildren Play First and Eat Second?
A new study has found that kids eat more fresh food when they have had a chance to work up an appetite at recess. Tim Boyle/Getty Images
It's easier than you think to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables.

In the fight against childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama spearheaded the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that requires schools to serve more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The idea is great. Its execution? Not so much. Reports found that despite federal law, many elementary school students (up to 70 percent) end up throwing most of this produce away to the tune of $3.8 million in wasted costs. The reason? Kids who are picky eaters would rather go hungry than eat broccoli.

However, a new study from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., found a solution to get kids to actually eat healthy, and it all comes down to scheduling.

The idea is that these youngsters will eat more — and more healthfully — if they work up an appetite first. And there’s a simple, cost-free way that schools can do this: switch up recess and lunch.

MORE: This State Is Making Sure No Child Is Ever Denied a School Lunch

As EcoWatch notes, most schools in America schedule lunch before recess thinking that the kids can use the free time to burn off their meals. But as it happens, since students so excited about getting to play, many just end up trashing their food.

“Recess is a pretty big deal to kids,” Joseph Price, BYU associate professor and the study’s lead author, tells the Salt Lake City Tribune. “So if you make them choose between recess and vegetables, recess is going to win.”

For the study, researchers observed seven elementary school cafeterias in Orem, Utah. Four schools had lunch first, and three schools experimented with recess first. “After analyzing a total of 22,939 observations the researchers concluded that in the schools that switched recess to before lunch children ate 54 percent more fruits and vegetables,” a news release says. “There was also a 45 percent 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.”

It makes a lot of sense. By making sure kids jump, swing and run around on the playground first, they’ll be hungry enough to eat anything. Even broccoli.

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