Study Suggests Preordering School Lunches Leads to Healthier Choices

A research letter by Andrew S. Hanks, Ph.D., of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and colleagues examined whether having students preorder their entrée (main dish) of their school meal improves the healthfulness of entrees selected for lunch. (Online First)

A total of 272 students in 14 classrooms (grades 1-5) from two elementary schools in upstate New York participated in the study. The schools are located in a predominantly white (96.6 percent) county where 55 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches. Students used an electronic system to preorder their lunch entrée over a 4-week period (November – December 2011).

According to the study results, when students preordered their entrée, 29.4 percent selected the healthier entrée compared with 15.3 percent when preordering was not available. The less healthy entrée was chosen 70.8 percent of the time by students who preordered, and students who ordered in the lunch line selected the less healthy entrée 85.7 percent of the time. It appears that hunger-based, spontaneous selection diminished healthy entrée selection by 48 percent and increased less healthy entrée selection by 21 percent.

“Together, both consumption and selection data demonstrate how a simple environmental change—preordering—can prompt children to choose healthier food” the study concludes.

(JAMA Pediatr. Published online May 3, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.82.