Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Pay Kids To Eat Vegetables? It Might Just Work

Kids are trashing the fruits and veggies served for school lunches. A study suggests paying them to eat the good stuff will increase consumption, reduce waste.

Fruit and vegetables

Photo: Ali Karimian (Flickr)

Of the $5.4 million spent on fruits and vegetables on school lunch trays this year, $3.8 million is going to waste.

You can lead a child to fruits and vegetables, but you can’t make her eat them.

What A Waste

Efforts to increase school children’s access to fresh produce are largely going to waste. Kids are scrapping $3.8 million worth of fruits and vegetables, over half of the $5.4 million being spent to improve their diets.

There might be one way to keep the food from winding up in the trash. Researchers at Brigham Young University and Cornell found that if children are rewarded for eating healthy foods, they are more likely to actually consume them.

Researchers observed that despite modest gains in consumption since the new school lunch rules were implemented, about 70 percent of extra fruits and vegetables served in three Utah schools were still thrown away.

But when children were given incentives for eating garden goods — pocket change or a raffle ticket — consumption increased by 80 percent and waste declined by 33 percent.

What Could Change

Paying out money to the children could actually generate big savings. Instead of the program costing $5.4 million, it would cost about $1.1 million. Researchers also point out that getting children to create a positive new habit or preference is a good thing.

But there is a concern that children will only make healthy choices when they are rewarded. The researchers found that once the prizes were taken away after the week-long study, the school kids returned to their old habits.

Next time, the researchers plan to extend the length of program to see if long-term habits can be instilled.

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Liz Leslie

Liz Leslie is a journalist based in Bloomington, Indiana. When she's not writing about food, she's likely eating food. Or dreaming about food.

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