Avoid the Holiday Hiatus from Health – and Start the New Year Right!

teacher and children eating fruit

December is often the month where we indulge in a variety of holiday goodies, but with a little awareness about common pitfalls, you can resolve to get your students eating healthier in the New Year!  Recent research on food purchasing from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab looked at grocery purchases of over 200 households from September to March.  As might be expected, around the holiday season purchasing of unhealthy foods increased, after all, everyone likes a bit of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, or a few sugar cookies for “Santa” at Christmas.  What was surprising was that people were still purchasing lots of less-healthy foods after January 1st, a time when many people have enacted New Year’s Resolutions to eat more healthfully or lose weight.  The good news from this study was that after New Year’s people also increased the number of healthy foods they purchased.  However, if the healthy foods are providing a “cover” for increased unhealthy food purchasing, they may be harming, not helping those trying to stick to their New Year’s Resolutions.  What does all this mean for schools and students?  Well, it may be the case that when students return to school after the holiday break they will have been subject to a home-food environment that was full of special treats for weeks.  Here are some tips to help students at your school get back on a healthy-eating track after the holidays have passed.

Make Sure Healthy Food Is Available and Visible: Cafeteria staff can make sure that healthy items like fruits, vegetables, white milk, and whole grains are more visible in the school lunch line than ice cream, chips, and cookies.  This small change can help encourage the selection of these healthier items.

Modeling: Modeling is a powerful tool to encourage healthy eating in children.  If your school encourages teachers to eat with students make sure teachers are aware of what a healthy lunch might look like.  Just seeing their favorite teacher eat an apple encourages students to try an apple for themselves.  For more on modeling see: Teachers to Students: Do As I Do When Making Healthy Food Choices.

Set A School Resolution: Teachers can encourage healthy food selections in the New Year by setting a school-wide resolution for every student to eat one fruit or vegetable during the school day.  Have classrooms compete against one another to see who can stick to the resolution the longest. 

Get Back To Normal: One reason that consumers may continue to purchase a large number of unhealthy foods even after the merriment of the holidays has passed could be that they get used to a new “status quo” of grocery purchasing.  At school, just getting students back into their normal daily routines and breakfast/lunch routines can help them return to their pre-holiday season eating norms and reduce the amount of junk food they consume at school and at home.


Lizzy Pope, PhD, Cornell University Food and Brand Lab 


Pope, Lizzy, Andrew Hanks, David Just and Brian Wansink (2014). New Year’s Res-Illusions: Food Shopping in the New Year Competes with Healthy Intentions. PLOS ONEdoi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110561