For kids, healthier lunch choices could come down to salad bar placement

WASHINGTON — There’s a trick to getting kids to eat more fruit and vegetables in their school lunch and it has everything to do with location, location, location.

A new study suggests the placement of healthy choices can make a huge difference.

Researchers at the Arizona State University followed 533 students at six Phoenix-area middle schools. Half those schools put their salad bars in the actual lunch line along with other menu items, while the other half put their salad bars alone in other parts of the cafeteria.

The researchers found that students who had a salad bar in the lunch line were four times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables — 98.6 percent of these students added items from the salad bar to their lunch trays. In comparison, only 22.6 percent of students tried the salad bar when they had to navigate the lunch room to get to it.

It is unknown how many students overall regularly buy lunch in a school cafeteria in the United states. The U.S. Agriculture Department’s National School Lunch Program says it helps feed more than 31 million children each school day.

The authors of the Arizona study say that means something as simple as changing the placement of a salad bar could help millions of kids make healthier choices on their own.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the university affiliated with the research.

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