Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School

Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School
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Interventions to improve child nutrition at school have included everything from reducing cookie size, adding fruit to classroom cupcake celebrations, and giving vegetables attractive names, to more comprehensive strategies such as “veggiecation” curricula, and transforming school cafeterias.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

What happens if you give one group of kids a plate of cookies, and the other group the same number of cookies, but cut in half, and tell them all they can eat as many as they want? Decreasing the cookie size led to 25% fewer cookie calories eaten.

“The goal of this study was to help counter…obesity-promoting eating behaviors facilitated by the availability of large portions of [junk food].” And, “[t]he findings suggest that reducing the size of cookies (without altering the total amount of food) decreases children’s short-term energy intake—a…‘‘dietary strategy’’ for guardians to discretely decrease [unhealthy behaviors].”

But, do you know what’s in these things? Partially hydrogenated oil; trans fats. No one should be eating those. In fact, I can think of another “dietary strategy” to decrease kid’s intake—don’t give them any.

Admittedly, easier said than done. Even in the “granola crunchy” Bay Area, when parents and school administrators proposed to ban junk food, it “sent a…faction of parents and teachers into an apoplectic fit.”

In Texas, there was such parental outrage they got lawmakers to pass “a Safe Cupcake Amendment. The amendment, known as Lauren’s Law, ensures that parents and grandparents of schoolchildren celebrating a birthday can bring whatever” the heck they want to school.

Fine. What if you just offered fruit in addition to the cupcakes at classroom celebrations? “To observe student response[s] to the addition of fresh fruit, bowls of fresh, cut-up fruit provided by the researchers were added to the party food contributed by the parents” at half the four kindergarten or preschool celebrations studied. “No special effort was made to encourage students to choose the fruit.” They just put it out there. Would kids actually eat fruit when there was birthday cake, ice cream, and cheese puffs taking up nearly a whopping third of their daily caloric intake? Yes! On average, each kid ate a full fruit serving. Take that, cheesy puffs!

There are entire curricula available now for schools, like Veggiecation, where, for a whole year, classrooms feature a new veggie of the month, “sprinkled with nutrition mantras like, ‘’Fiber equals a happy tummy.'” And, it works! ” The active engagement of students in tasting and rating of vegetable dishes seemed to have contributed to higher consumption of [featured] vegetables.”

One school was able, in some cases, to double vegetable consumption—just by giving them “attractive names.” Elementary students ate twice the number of carrots if they were called “X-ray Vision Carrots,” than if they were “just” carrots, or generically named as the “Food of the Day.”

How about “Power Punch Broccoli, Silly Dilly Green Beans,” or calling broccoli “Tiny Tasty Tree Tops?” Selection of broccoli increased 100%; green beans up 177%.

Conclusion: “these studies demonstrate that using an attractive name to describe a healthy food in a cafeteria is robustly effective, persistent, and scalable with little or no money or experience.” These names were not carefully crafted, discussed in focus groups, and then pre-tested.” They just thought them up. What a concept! And, kids were suckered into eating healthier for months by putting out silly little signs.

Vegetable intake up nearly 100% across the board, while in the control school, without the signs, vegetable consumption started low, and actually got worse. So, why isn’t every single school in the country doing this right now?! Bring it up at your next PTA meeting.

And, if you want to get really bold, you can join the nutritious school lunch revolution, led by pioneering organizations like the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to bookgrl via flickr, and New York Coalition for Healthy School Food. Thanks also to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

What happens if you give one group of kids a plate of cookies, and the other group the same number of cookies, but cut in half, and tell them all they can eat as many as they want? Decreasing the cookie size led to 25% fewer cookie calories eaten.

“The goal of this study was to help counter…obesity-promoting eating behaviors facilitated by the availability of large portions of [junk food].” And, “[t]he findings suggest that reducing the size of cookies (without altering the total amount of food) decreases children’s short-term energy intake—a…‘‘dietary strategy’’ for guardians to discretely decrease [unhealthy behaviors].”

But, do you know what’s in these things? Partially hydrogenated oil; trans fats. No one should be eating those. In fact, I can think of another “dietary strategy” to decrease kid’s intake—don’t give them any.

Admittedly, easier said than done. Even in the “granola crunchy” Bay Area, when parents and school administrators proposed to ban junk food, it “sent a…faction of parents and teachers into an apoplectic fit.”

In Texas, there was such parental outrage they got lawmakers to pass “a Safe Cupcake Amendment. The amendment, known as Lauren’s Law, ensures that parents and grandparents of schoolchildren celebrating a birthday can bring whatever” the heck they want to school.

Fine. What if you just offered fruit in addition to the cupcakes at classroom celebrations? “To observe student response[s] to the addition of fresh fruit, bowls of fresh, cut-up fruit provided by the researchers were added to the party food contributed by the parents” at half the four kindergarten or preschool celebrations studied. “No special effort was made to encourage students to choose the fruit.” They just put it out there. Would kids actually eat fruit when there was birthday cake, ice cream, and cheese puffs taking up nearly a whopping third of their daily caloric intake? Yes! On average, each kid ate a full fruit serving. Take that, cheesy puffs!

There are entire curricula available now for schools, like Veggiecation, where, for a whole year, classrooms feature a new veggie of the month, “sprinkled with nutrition mantras like, ‘’Fiber equals a happy tummy.'” And, it works! ” The active engagement of students in tasting and rating of vegetable dishes seemed to have contributed to higher consumption of [featured] vegetables.”

One school was able, in some cases, to double vegetable consumption—just by giving them “attractive names.” Elementary students ate twice the number of carrots if they were called “X-ray Vision Carrots,” than if they were “just” carrots, or generically named as the “Food of the Day.”

How about “Power Punch Broccoli, Silly Dilly Green Beans,” or calling broccoli “Tiny Tasty Tree Tops?” Selection of broccoli increased 100%; green beans up 177%.

Conclusion: “these studies demonstrate that using an attractive name to describe a healthy food in a cafeteria is robustly effective, persistent, and scalable with little or no money or experience.” These names were not carefully crafted, discussed in focus groups, and then pre-tested.” They just thought them up. What a concept! And, kids were suckered into eating healthier for months by putting out silly little signs.

Vegetable intake up nearly 100% across the board, while in the control school, without the signs, vegetable consumption started low, and actually got worse. So, why isn’t every single school in the country doing this right now?! Bring it up at your next PTA meeting.

And, if you want to get really bold, you can join the nutritious school lunch revolution, led by pioneering organizations like the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to bookgrl via flickr, and New York Coalition for Healthy School Food. Thanks also to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help.

Doctor's Note

What’s so bad about trans fats? See Trans Fat in Meat & DairyTrans Fat, Saturated Fat, & Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero; and Breast Cancer Survival & Trans Fat.

Whenever I find myself frustrated by half measures, I am forced to remind myself just how SAD the Standard American Diet is. See Nation’s Diet in Crisis for a reality check. One of the problems is that parents may not even realize there is a problem (see Mothers Overestimate Dietary Quality).

Feel free to check out the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food website at http://www.healthyschoolfood.org/.

This is the first video of my three-part series on practical tips for dietary improvement. In my next two videos, I cover Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home and Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healthier.

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: How to Get Kids to Eat their Vegetables, How to Get our Kids to Eat their Vegetables, and How to Get Parents to Eat their Vegetables.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

17 responses to “Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School

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  1. When I was a child, we all loved to eat spinach because we saw Popeye eat it during Saturday morning cartoons. We wanted to be strong like Popeye

  2. Thanks for another practical video. The point is well taken and entirely appropriate. There is no nutritional value to food which is not eaten. Getting kids to eat healthy can be especially problematic. Any strategy which makes it easier to overcome the apparent barriers , on both an individual and social level is much appreciated.

  3. I like the idea with attractive names – what about non-attractive names:

    Stroke-beef
    Cancer-milk
    Inflammation-egg
    Mercury-fish
    Diabetes-cheese
    Coronary occlusion-poultry
    Cavity-candy
    :-)

    1. Plantstrongdoc: Too funny!

      My contributions include:
      * poop-crusted legs (for chicken)
      * puss milk (or puss cheese – take your pick)
      * die-early eggs
      * constipation steak

      I don’t know if it would make any difference given what many kids and their parents seem happy to eat, but it would be worth a shot. :-)

    1. That’s a good point worth reflecting on. Regardless, if the goal is healthy food, nutritionally educated people need to get involved and raise the bar so the food is actually healthy (animal-free, as you imply).

    2. You mean Coalition for Healthy School Food? No, I think you misunderstood their pie chart—it’s descriptive, NOT prescriptive. They’re saying the current consumption of animal food is the problem. All their recipes and recommendations promote plant-based food.

  4. This is another fascinating video but what is your objection to using adverbs? Given the education context, it would have been appropriate to get the grammar right.

    1. Prescriptive grammar is arbitrary. Dr. Gregor is trying to educate people, so he writes the way they talk. I don’t think it takes away from his professionalism. He seems to be trying to make these videos accessible to the average person. Be honest, would you really say “more healthily” if you were talking to someone?

    2. This isn’t an English exam. Perfect grammar isn’t everyone’s top priority. The good and important thing is that health information is being shared, and people are being greatly helped by it. Peace

  5. It’s easier to get kids to eat fruit because kids have a sweet tooth. They don’t really crave candy, like lifesavers, they crave tart berries, sweet strawberries, tasty bananas, wonderful watermelon. They are drawn to candy because conventional, pesticide-grown fruit is bland. Put organic ripe fruit on the table and kids will drop the artificial candy and devour nature’s candy. Remember that Lifesavers got its flavors from nature.

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