A new study from researchers at Brigham Young and Cornell University has demonstrated that children will eat more fruits and vegetables if lunchtime comes after recess.
The study, which appears in the February issue of Preventative Medicine, found that children ate 54% more fruits and vegetables when lunchtime came after recess. In addition, 45% more students who did not eat fruits and vegetables to begin with, did so when eating after a period of exercise. The authors believe the outcomes happened as a result of children being hungrier, as well as a lessened feeling of having to "rush" through lunch in order to increase their outdoor play time.
Previous research agrees with the study, showing that not only will children eat more and waste less of their lunches, but the lunchroom becomes a quieter and more orderly place, reports Greg Toppo for USA Today.
The study involved first through sixth graders at seven schools in a Utah district that was in the process of rearranging lunch times. The situation offered a unique opportunity for researchers, who were already collecting data at other nearby schools to determine the eating habits of children from low-income families.
The number of ounces of fruits and vegetables that were thrown out by children were recorded, finding that children who ate lunch after recess wasted food less often than those who ate lunch first. Students from the control group, who had lunch before recess, ended up eating less fruits and vegetables over the course of the study.
"Recess is a pretty big deal. If you make students choose between recess and veggies, recess is going to win," Joe Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University, tells Yahoo Parenting. "Plus, if you're outside playing and working up an appetite, you will eat more afterwards, and that includes the fruits and vegetables."
The researchers say that recent federal guidelines that require schools to offer students more fruits and vegetables are not enough to motivate children to eat healthy.
"It's not always what's on the tray that matters," says David Just, a behavioral economist at Cornell. "Sometimes it's what you were doing before or after lunch that makes the difference."
Despite this, schools are still reluctant to change their schedules, citing such issues as tradition, colder morning temperatures, and a whole host of logistical concerns, writes KJ Dell'Antonia for The New York Times. Dell'Antonia had brought the issue up at her child's preschool several years ago, only to be told they did not want to change from what had always been done. Instead, the school required all children to stay seated until everyone had finished their lunch.