Do you have one of those kids who comes home from school with a lunchbox that looks like it hasn't even been opened? Turns out, how much and how well your child eats at lunch time might have more to do with what periods she has right before and right after lunch than with what you pack for her to eat.
In a newly published study, researchers have found that kids who eat lunch after recess are much more likely to eat a healthy lunch than those who have recess after lunch. For the study, researchers at Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and Brigham Young University observed the eating patterns of students at seven schools — three of which changed their lunch period to after recess and four of which continued to serve lunch before recess. They were specifically tracking the kids who purchased lunch at school and who, according to national school lunch standards, had to take at least one fruit or vegetable with their meal.
Researchers found that the students whose lunch period was moved to after recess increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by 54 percent. That brought the percentage of children eating at least one serving of fruits or vegetables to 45 percent.
There are likely two factors at work here. For starters, the kids might just not be as hungry when they eat lunch at an earlier time of day. In addition, in schools that allow students to go outside and play after eating, the incentive is high to toss the food in the trash and head straight out the door.
So, if kids eat so much better after recess, why don't all schools make the change? Not surprisingly, for a number of schools, the reluctance to change is rooted in tradition. School logistics have been scheduled around the lunch-then-recess model and it can be hard to untangle that. Other schools note that it's easier to get kids outside after lunch when the temperatures have warmed up a bit. But if studies consistently show that kids eat a better lunch after recess than before, it might be worth bucking tradition and making the change.
Does your child's school serve lunch before recess or after?
Related on MNN: