The National School Lunch Program is in place to get children to eat at least one serving of fruit and vegetable while they are in school, helping ensure they meet their daily nutritional requirements. Just because a child has a fruit and a vegetable on their tray, however, doesn't mean that they'll actually eat them.
According to a study published in Preventive Medicine, when the lunch hour is set is also a factor in getting children to eat their fruits and vegetables, noting that recess should come before lunch if schools truly want to make the most out of the school lunch program.
David Just, Ph.D. from Cornell University, one of the study's authors, explained that during the usual schedule where lunch precedes recess, children are typically in a hurry to eat because they're excited to play.
Rushing means eating little, and this leads to wasted fruits and vegetables. It also doesn't help that a lot of children are not hungry when it's time for their first meal in school. That's why they are also unlikely to eat everything on their tray.
If recess comes before lunch, children will have already had their fun before lunch time, reducing the rush to finish eating. Expending energy also works up appetites, making it likelier for a child to eat everything on their tray.
Just and Joseph Price from the Brigham Young University, also an author of the study, conducted their research in a school district in Orem, Utah. They went to seven schools within the district, three of which agreed to schedule recess before lunch while four stuck with the usual routine.
For 13 days back in spring and fall of 2011, Just and Price observed just how many fruits and vegetables ended up as waste, recording as well how many fruit and vegetable servings students ate. They also took note of whether or not every student was able to consume at least one serving of fruit or vegetable.
Researchers logged 22,939 observations, the analysis of which revealed that 54 percent more children ate their servings of fruits and vegetables in the schools that moved recess before lunch. In addition, there was an increase of 45 percent in the number of children that ate at least one serving of fruit or vegetable.
In schools that followed the traditional schedule of having lunch before recess, fruit and vegetable consumption actually dropped for the same time period.
Not eating well will leave children hungry for the remainder of the day, causing not just poor academic performance but excessive snacking as well when they get home.
Aside from getting children to load up on fruits and vegetables, switching recess and lunch schedules will also let schools and their districts save on costs, thanks to a reduction in fruit and vegetable waste.