David Just, a behavioral economist and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition, says that while the new Harvard School of Public Health study shows an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption at school, food waste and costs are too high.
Just recently published a study in Public Health Nutrition that showed while kids eat fruits and vegetables they are provided by default, about 70 percent of the food still gets thrown away.
“The cost of the added fruit and vegetable consumption is pretty high.
“The new regulations have done a fabulous job of making fruits and vegetables available. But, they haven’t dealt well with the problem of motivating children to eat the new foods, which leads to a substantive increase in waste.
“Our estimates are that the new program costs about $1.75 for every 10 kids per day, with an extra 1 to 2 kids per 10 eating a fruit or vegetable and an extra 5 kids throwing a fruit or vegetable away. If instead you simply pay each kid a nickel if they decide to eat their fruit or vegetable, you can reduce the waste almost altogether, and get those 2 in 10 kids to eat for only 45 cents per 10 kids per day.
“I’m not suggesting we start paying kids to eat, but this demonstrates how important motivation is relative to just availability. In fact, we have found Smarter Lunchroom techniques, simple and inexpensive changes in the lunchroom that lead kids to choose healthier foods on their own, can be even more effective when paired with the new school lunch, reducing waste to the pre-change levels. That means we can get an extra 5 in 10 to eat a fruit or vegetable at nearly no additional cost when we use simple behavioral economics to motivate kids to eat.
“Now that we are spending the money to make these great foods available, it seems silly that we would not take the necessary step to motivate eating. But, of course, that decision to motivate the kids are decisions that must be made by each individual school district.”
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