Don't ban it, move it.

This is one conclusion of a new Cornell University study on kids, healthy foods, and their school lunchrooms.

In one set of schools, sales of fruit increased by 100% when it was moved to a colorful bowl. Salad bar sales tripled when the cart was placed in front of cash registers.

These findings, presented today at the School Nutrition Association's New York conference, underscore the easiest way to expand healthy lunchroom choices is to make an apple more convenient, cool, and visible than a cookie.

The conclusion of six different studies with over 11,000 middle and high school studies show that using psychology and economics might be a better way to encourage kids to make healthier food choices than simply outlawing junk food.

"It's not nutrition until someone eats it. You need to have foods that kids will eat, or they won't eat - or they'll eat worse" said Chris Wallace, Food Service Director for the Corning, New York School District.

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

During his research presentation, he described other studies that showed:

  • Decreasing the size of bowls from 18 ounces to 14 ounces reduced the size of the average cereal serving at breakfast by 24 percent.
  • Sales of healthy sandwiches doubled when students were allowed to use a speedy "healthy express" checkout line (while kids buying buying calorie-dense foods like desserts and chips had to use regular, longer lines).
  • Moving the chocolate milk behind the plain milk led students to buy more plain milk.
  • Keeping ice cream in a freezer with a closed, opaque top significantly reduced the amount of ice cream taken.
  • Salad sales increased by a third when cafeteria workers simply asked each child, "Do you want a salad?"