Most of us here at FoodFacts.com love biting into a big, juicy apple, or peeling an orange and enjoying the whole fruit – the same holds true for pears, and bananas. It really hadn’t occurred to us that there might be kids all over the country who are turned off to eating fruit based on the simple concept that bite-sized pieces are more appealing to them.
A new study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab takes a closer look at why children are avoiding fruit in the school cafeteria line and if, perhaps, that “ready-to-eat”, no additional work required appearance could, in fact, encourage kids to consume more fruit. While most believe that children avoid fruit because of the taste and the competition fruit faces from packaged snacks, the researchers wanted to dig deeper and see if there were really other reasons for kids to pass fruit up in their school cafeterias.
The researchers designed a pilot study that included eight elementary schools within the same district. First, they gave each school a commercial food slicer and instructed cafeteria personnel to use it when a child requested an apple. The fruit slicer cut the apple into six pieces and took between three and four seconds to use on each apple. Initial results of the pilot study showed that fruit sales increased by an average of 61% when the apples were sliced for the kids. They then interviewed the students and found out that they disliked eating fruit in school for two main reasons. The first was that for the younger kids, who might be wearing braces or be missing a few teeth, a whole fruit was inconvenient to eat. Older girls stated that they felt they looked unattractive eating a whole fruit in front of other kids and were self conscious about it. The sliced fruit solved both these issues for the children.
The researchers then expanded the pilot study to confirm the initial findings by adding six middle schools in the same district. Three of the six were given the fruit slicers while the others continued normal cafeteria operations, acting as a control. The fruit slices were placed in cups in two of the three schools and on a try in the third school. To accurately access actual consumption, field researchers were assigned to every school to record how much of the apple was wasted by counting the number of slices thrown away by each student.
These results showed that sales of apples in the schools using the fruit slicers increased by 71% compared to the control schools selling the whole fruit. Most importantly, researchers found that the percentage of students who ate more than half of the apple they purchased increased by 73%.
This pilot study showed that, in fact, taste and competition from processed snacks may not be the reason kids aren’t consuming fruit in school. When the fruit was made easier to eat, more kids were purchasing it and, most importantly, more of them were eating more of it. So for a small investment ($200 for the slicers) kids were encouraged to make healthier choices and waste less of the choices they made.
What a great, simple idea! FoodFacts.com hopes that this study gets the recognition it deserves from school districts all over the country. We wonder if these researchers are actually on to something for adults as well.