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Preordering School Lunch Encourages Better Food Choices by Children

Hanks, Andrew,  David Just and Brian Wansink. (2013). Preordering School Lunch Encourages Better Food Choices by Children. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(7), 673-674. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.82.

Spontaneous selection of food is hunger-based and relies heavily on sensory cues such as smell and sight. Because of this, we hypothesized that having students preorder their lunch selections would cause them to make healthier choices rather than being enticed by less healthy foods.

A total of 272 children in fourteen 1st-5th grade classrooms in two upstate New York school districts participated in this study. Each day, the most nutrient dense entrée was coded “healthy” and the less nutrient dense was coded “unhealthy” in the electronic preordering system. To begin, all students preordered their school lunch from their classroom. Four of the fourteen classrooms stopped preordering meals in the 3rd week of the study. Five classrooms stopped preordering in the 4th week and 5 classrooms never stopped preordering. After four weeks, the sales records from all groups from were analyzed using the Stata 12 mixed-effects logistic model.

When students preordered their meals 29.4% selected a healthy entrée whereas only 15.3% did when the meal was not preordered. Consumption data suggests that preordering the entrée also affects selection and consumption of side dishes.

This study shows that preordering meals can lead kids to make healthier selections. When the decision making environment is moved away from the enticing sights and smells of less healthy foods, students make more conscious decisions that are not based on hunger cues and, as demonstrated in this study, are more likely to select healthier entrees.