As someone with a writing background, I dig subtlety as much as I dig big, sweeping motions that restore public faith that Sh*t Is Being Done, so I was really intrigued by some of the really simple marketing-style tricks  Cornell Researchers have been trying to get kids eating healthier in school.

A presentation of results from six different studies in 11,000 middle and high schools shows that perhaps the way to encourage better choices is not to ban unhealthy items but to make healthy foods more available and easier to reach.

Said Brian Wansink, Co-Director of the Cornell Center of Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN), “We’re focusing on giving Food Service Directors “low-cost/no cost” changes they can make immediately.”

Some of his findings included:

  • Decreasing the size of bowls from 18 ounces to 14 ounces reduced the size of the average cereal serving at breakfast by 24 percent.
  • An attractive fruit displaying boosted sales.
  • Having a speedy “healthy express” checkout line for students not buying foods like desserts and chips, doubled the sales of healthy sandwiches
  • Putting the plain milk in front of the chocolate milk led students to buy more plain milk.
  • Storing ice cream in a freezer with a closed opaque top rather than a clear one significantly reduced the amount of ice cream sold.
  • Simply asking children is they wanted a salad increased salad sales by a third.

What I find really cool about this is how easy it can be for adults to do this in their own homes too.

  • Use smaller plates for more calorie-dense foods, but use your big plates for salads and vegetables.
  • Keep healthy foods like fresh fruit in easy-to-reach places.
  • Keep foods like chips, cookies, and other high-cal, low-nutrient foods in an out-of-the-way cabinet, or at least keep them covered and out of sight.
  • In your fridge, put cut-up veggies, healthy dips like salsa and hummus, and yogurt at eye-level.
  • Store the ice cream in the back of the freezer, behind or under items like frozen veggies or leftovers.

I like the “small changes” approach—I really believe they can add up. Obviously, it would be hard to completely change overnight, so any little bit counts. If starting with smaller plates works for you, great—if you need to start simply by putting your snacks in a different cupboard, fine.

The findings of these studies in schools are very encouraging, and I hope see more on this topic! Do you have any rules about where you keep certain kinds of foods in your kitchen?

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