A school cafeteria can feature delicious smells, eye-catching snacks, and distracting friends—all of which can lead a hungry student to select less healthy choices when buying lunch. However, preordering meals ahead of time (such as at the start of the school day in a classroom setting) eliminates these sensory cues and allows students to choose healthier options without the immediate temptations of the lunchroom.
In a study by Cornell University, students in two New York state elementary schools were allowed to digitally preorder their lunches each morning. Researchers examined the food options and determined which meals were healthier/less healthy based on the nutrient densities of each choice. The results showed that preordering improved lunch selection compared to standard in-line lunchroom ordering by increasing sales of nutrient-dense foods:
1) Preordering increased healthy entrée selection
2) Preordering led to decreased selection of less healthy choices
So just how strong is this lunchroom temptation?
Take-Home Tip for You to Try
To help students avoid impulsive purchasing of unhealthy foods, try pre-ordering in your school system! Although this study used computerized preordering system, paper-based pre-ordering is an inexpensive alternative that can easily be implemented in order to prevent the shift to unhealthy lunch selection.
Wansink, B., Shimizu, M., & Brumberg, A. (2013). "Association of nutrient-dense snack combinations with calories and vegetable intake." Pediatrics, 131(1), pp. 22-29.