Peas before Pizza: Why Food Order Matters in the Lunch Line

salad barHave you ever been to a buffet and filled your plate on the first few offerings, only to find that your favorite dish is last in line?  You’re not the only one! Studies conducted by Cornell  Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs’ David Just and Brian Wansink found that moving an entrée to first in line can increase sales by 11%!

In one field study, conducted in a middle school lunchroom, bean burritos were moved ahead of more calorically dense tacos. Sales of burritos greatly increased while sales of the less healthy tacos decreased. These findings suggest that when an entrée item is placed first in line it may be selected more often than the following options.  A good way to encourage students to select healthier foods is to arrange the lunch line so that the more nutrient dense foods appear first. It costs nothing to rearrange and will likely take almost no time at all!

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Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Begin the line with the most healthful entrée
  • Move the fruit and veggie sides in front of the calorically dense cookies and chips
  • Try it with drinks! Move the low-fat milk and water to the front of the beverage cart/cooler


Katherine Baildon, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs


Just, David and Brian Wansink. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. elsevier, 2011. s.v. “Healthy Foods First: Students Take the First Lunchroom Food 11% More Often Than the Third .” 

For More Information

Check out this free for credit course provided by the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement


Photo by usdagov / CC BY