You probably remember, as a kid, pushing anything green to the edges of your plate, hoping no one would notice. You had already eaten the delicious slab of protein that had been in the center of your plate. You weren't hungry anymore. You wanted to go play.
Well, what if you had just been a little hungrier?
That's the question researchers at Brigham Young University set out to answer. They found that kids just aren't hungry enough at lunchtime to eat their vegetables. The solution? Simple. Have recess before lunch, not after.
The researchers found that when recess takes place before kids sit down to eat, fruit and vegetable consumption increases significantly.
The study, published in Preventative Medicine, looked at 2,500 students in seven Utah elementary schools who participated in the National School Lunch Program, which serves lunches that must include a serving of vegetables. Three schools switched their schedules to hold recess before lunch, while the other four schools kept recess after lunch. Researchers stood by the garbage cans and measured how many kids threw away their fruits and vegetables.
They found that the simple schedule swap boosted produce consumption by 54% per kid. Yes, that much. Not only that — 45% more kids ended up eating a serving of fruits and vegetables, which reduced waste by 40%. And as for the schools that didn't switch, produce consumption actually decreased during the same time period.
"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 Joe Price, co-author of the study, in a press release.
When kids don't get a full, balanced meal, they can feel hungry later in the day, which leads to poorer academic performance and excessive snacking when they get home, the authors write. And this behavior can have adverse health effects in the long term.
The researchers' proposed schedule switch is a win-win situation for elementary schools and their students. It won't cost them anything — in fact, they'll save money by reducing waste — and the kids will be healthier.
It seems like a no-brainer. A minor, rather inconsequential change to the schedule that could drastically change children's lives. Hopefully news will travel quickly and school districts will take action. We'll just have to wait and see.