Increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption by Holding Recess before Lunch

Recess before lunch graphic

Many schools have recess-time right after lunch so that when students are finished eating they can engage in physical activities before afternoon classes. Researchers from Brigham Young University and Cornell University hypothesized that students may be less likely to finish their fruits and vegetables if they are in a hurry to begin recess, causing additional waste for school food programs especially those that comply with the standards of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The researchers conducted a study to find out if the timing of recess impacted selection and consumption. They found that having recess before lunch increased the number of kids who select fruits and vegetables by 45% and increased the amount fruits and vegetables that students in the study ate by 54%!

For the study, researchers analyzed the lunches of 1st-6th grade students in seven schools in a district in Orem, Utah.  Three schools swapped recess time to before lunch and the remainder kept it after lunch. In four days in spring of 2011 and nine days in fall, 2011, the researchers observed almost 23,000 trays. After careful analysis, they concluded that swapping recess time to occur before lunch resulted in increased fruit and vegetable consumption and decreased waste in the schools that made the swap.  

Co-author of the study, David Just, PhD of Cornell University notes, “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.” The NSLP requires participating students to select fruits and/or vegetables sides in order to qualify for a reimbursable meal but many schools have reported that these healthy foods are feeding trashcans rather than students so this simple solution is a win-win for student’s health and for the success of school lunch programs.

The NSLP guidelines were created to ensure that students are getting a balanced meal, however, they can only get the benefits of the nutrients if they are actually eaten! Swapping recess time to occur before lunch is an easy, no-cost way to improve student’s nutrition and decrease food waste.

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Price, Joseph and David Just (2014). Lunch, Recess and Nutrition: Responding to Time Incentives in the Cafeteria. Preventive Medicine. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.11.016