Sending him outside to run around a bit before mealtime may just do the trick. While this fix may seem all too simple, science says it’s true. A new Preventive Medicine study found that school-kids who have recess before lunchtime eat 54 percent more of the produce on their plates than kids who have scheduled playtime after they eat.
To come to these findings, researchers examined the eating habits of 2,500 elementary-aged kids from seven different schools, who participated in the National School Lunch Program. The Lunch Program requires that vegetables come with each meal, making this group of students the ideal population to observe. Three of the schools switched their students’ schedules so they had recess before lunch, while the other schools kept recess after lunch. Then, for 13 days throughout the year, researchers stood by the cafeteria garbage cans and recorded how many servings of produce each child threw away. Hey, we never said science was glamorous.
The study authors explained that when recess comes after lunch, kids tend to rush through their meals and skip the more nutritious dishes so they can head outside and play. However, when recess is held before lunch, not only do they feel less rushed, they also have increased appetites–appetites big enough that vegetables and fruits wind up in the kids rather than the trash.
The bottom line: It’s not always what you serve your little one, but what she does before or after her meal that matters. Although the study only looked at school lunch behavior, it’s worth following the study design at home. Before serving meals over the weekend or setting out weeknight dinners or snacks, have the kids go outside to run around a bit. Even if the results don’t carry over, it’s always a win when kids get some extra exercise!