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Pre-sliced Fruit in School Cafeterias: Children’s Selection and Intake

Wansink, Brian, David Just, Andrew S. Hanks and Laura E. Smith (2013). Pre-Sliced Fruit in School Cafeterias Children’s Selection and Intake. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 44, Issue 5, 477-480. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.02.003

Whole fruits are often promoted in schools and selected by students, but remain uneaten and end up in the trash. It is often assumed that students don’t eat fruit because they don’t like it or because it is expensive. However, these assumptions do not account for the fact that students are selecting and purchasing the fruit. We conducted interviews with twenty-three students in elementary and middle school to discover why whole fruits are often discarded.

Younger students indicated that whole fruits are often too large for small hands, and too difficult to bite into for those with braces or missing teeth. For older girls, eating whole fruit was perceived as unattractive and messy. We hypothesized that cutting fruits in school lunchrooms would increase consumption because it makes them easier to eat.

A pilot study was conducted in eight upstate New York lunchrooms where commercial fruit slicers were provided. Mean sales of fruit increased in all schools to varying degrees. To expand on these results, a full study was conducted in six middle schools in the same area of upstate New York. Three of these schools were assigned to a sliced fruit experimental condition and provided with a commercial fruit slicer for apples. To assess the success of this slicer implementation, we measured tray waste and apple sales. Apples must be eaten for students to receive the nutritional benefit; therefore, tray waste measures indicate the success of the change on nutritional intake. After introduction of the slicers, a 48% drop was seen in the number of students who wasted more than half of their apple. Likewise, a 73% increase was seen in those who ate more than half!

This study shows us the influence of convenience in the cafeteria. Slicing fruit can influence students to both select the fruit and eat it. By increasing convenience and attractiveness, schools can increase sales, decrease waste and better students’ nutrition.