Students in the federally funded U.S. National School Lunch Program must select a fruit and a vegetable side, the researchers explained. But many school officials say these healthy foods often end up in the trash.
“Recess is often held after lunch so children hurry to ‘finish’ so that they can go play. This results in wasted fruits and vegetables,” said study co-author David Just, of Cornell University.
“However, 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 study included seven elementary schools in Orem, Utah. Three of the schools switched recess to before lunch, while four continued to hold recess after lunch. In the schools that held recess before lunch, students’ consumption of fruits and vegetables rose 54 percent. There also was a 45 percent increase in the number of students who ate at least one serving of fruits and vegetables, the researchers said.
Meanwhile, students’ consumption of fruits and vegetables decreased at the schools that still held recess after lunch, according to the study published recently in the journalPreventive Medicine.
Holding recess before lunch is a no-cost way to get students to eat more nutritiously and should be done at all schools, Just and colleagues said in a Cornell news release.
“Increased fruit and vegetable consumption in young children can have positive long-term health effects,” they noted. “Additionally, decreasing waste of fruits and vegetables is important for schools and districts that are faced with high costs of offering healthier food choices.”