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How Schools Can Get Children to Eat Their Vegetables...

Researchers have discovered that a few small tricks can make a big difference.
We try haranguing. We try pleading. We try bribing. But we still can’t get children to eat their vegetables.

Now schools, nutritionists and behavioral scientists are putting science to work to figure out how to get children to reach for a carrot instead of a candy bar.

And they’re seeing gains from strategies such as changing the placement of vegetables on the food line, giving vegetable dishes names that sound more appealing and hiring chefs to redesign cafeteria meals.

There’s urgency behind these efforts. The nation’s childhood-obesity rates have tripled since the 1970s, and legislators are clashing over the effectiveness of recent federal rules mandating healthier fare in schools. While it seems the regulations are getting more children to make better choices, there hasn’t been a measurable health impact just yet.

Here is a closer look at five innovative interventions that researchers have found can make a difference in schools:
Put produce up front

In April, the Howard County, Md., school system opened all-you-can-eat salad bars at three elementary schools and moved them to the front of the cafeteria. Even before children entered the lunch line, they could see an array of five different fruits and five different vegetables a day, about 80% of it locally sourced. After the change, the number of students who buy school lunches increased.

“It’s all about selection,” says Brian Ralph, director of food and nutrition services for the system, which serves 55,000 students daily. “Hopefully, when students see something they’ve never tried before—like kale or romaine lettuce—they’ll come home and encourage their siblings to try it, too,” Mr. Ralph says.

Location matters, says a recent study by Arizona State University, which found that when a salad bar in a school cafeteria is made more visible, vegetable consumption is five times as high as before.

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