Creating a Healthier Lunchroom in Schools

Abigail Taylor innovation, Research, Top Posts

Jaclyn Kropp

Jaclyn Kropp, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, spoke at the Florida Agricultural Policy Outlook Conference about research and programs to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables within the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). NSLP is the second largest food assistance program in the United States and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Kropp discussed two studies at the conference. The first study involved pre-ordering. Students pre-ordered their lunch on a computer in the morning prior to entering the lunchroom. Kropp says pre-ordering eliminates the temptation of unhealthy foods because the food is not in front of the students. Once the students had selected their meals, a subset received a message indicating if their chosen meal meets the MyPlate standards, or if better choices could be made to meet the standards. The result was an increase in students choosing a more balanced meal. According to Kropp, this study is useful because while it sways the students’ behavior, it does not eliminate the element of choice.

The second study involved showing students their prior selections in the school cafeteria. This study included three groups that received different information. One group received information on their own food selections. Another group received their own information and information on their peers’ consumption. The last group received their own information, their peers’ information and the USDA consumption recommendations. Kropp said the results of this study were surprising. She was expecting the peer information to have the most positive impact on selection of healthy foods. However, it had the most negative impact.

Kropp also discussed some programs that work toward increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in schools. Cornell University’s Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition created The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. This program provides low-cost ideas to create a healthier lunchroom. Examples include moving white milk to the front of the cooler and placing sugary chocolate milk in the back, as well as putting fruits in a bright-colored bowl in a well-lit area toward the front of the lunch line. The bright bowls increased fruit selection by 102 percent in one study.

Another program Kropp spoke on is USDA’s Farm to School program, which helps schools source their foods locally. This program is unique because it helps increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting the local farm economy.

Listen to the full interview:

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Abigail Taylor

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