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Pre-Sliced Fruit in School Cafeterias

Children's Selection and Intake

      Background

      It is often assumed that children avoid fruit in school cafeterias because of higher relative prices and preferences for other foods. Interviews with children reveal that eating whole fresh fruit can be difficult for those with small mouths or braces. Older girls find whole fruits messy and unattractive to eat.

      Purpose

      To determine the effect of offering pre-sliced fruit in schools on selection and intake.

      Design

      Three of six schools were assigned randomly to serve apples in slices. Three control schools served apples whole. Selection, consumption, and waste of apples were measured prior to and during treatment.

      Setting/participants

      Cafeterias in six public middle schools in Wayne County NY in 2011. Participants included all students who purchased lunch on days when data were collected.

      Intervention

      Treatment schools were provided with a standard commercial fruit slicer, and cafeteria staff members were instructed to use it when students requested apples. Trained researchers recorded how much of each apple was consumed and how much was wasted in both control and treatment schools.

      Main outcome measures

      Daily apple sales, percentage of an apple serving consumed per student, and percentage of an apple serving wasted per student.

      Results

      Data were analyzed in 2012. Schools that used fruit slicers to pre-slice fruit increased average daily apple sales by 71% compared to control schools (p<0.01). The percentage of students who selected apples and ate more than half increased by 73% (p=0.02) at schools that served pre-sliced fruit, and the percentage that wasted half or more decreased by 48% (p=0.03).

      Conclusions

      Sliced fruit is more appealing to children than whole fruit because it is easier and tidier to eat. This study applies the principle of convenience from behavioral economics and provides an example of a scalable, low-cost environmental change that promotes healthy eating and decreases waste.
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