Dr. Ayala's Blog

The latest science of healthy food and healthy living

Dr. Ayala

Dr. Ayala
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
V.P. Product Development
Herbal Water
I’m a physician (Pediatrics and Medical Genetics), artist, and mother of 3 school age active kids. I recently co-founded Herbal Water Inc. (www.herbalwater.com) with my husband, Albert. I am a serious home cook, and love to entertain. My expertise is vegetarian food (I have been a vegetarian all my life). I strongly believe that eating healthy and enjoying good food go hand in hand. My main interests are science, nutrition and art, and I am overall a very curious person that tries to learn something new every day. Dr. Ayala (Ayala Laufer-Cahana M.D.)


Dr. Ayala's Links

Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 3, 2010 7:48AM

Lunchrooms designed for healthy eating

Rate: 9 Flag

Could lunchroom design drive better nutrition? Brian Wansink, Co-Director of the Cornell Center of Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and author of "Mindless Eating", presented proof that it can, and shared some tried and true, low-cost healthy-eating-promoting ideas for school lunchrooms at the School Nutrition Association's New York conference recently. Here are a few of the environmental changes he suggested, all of which have been shown to affect eating habits and preferences:

• Decreasing the size of bowls from 18 ounces to 14 ounces reduced the size of the average cereal serving at breakfast by 24 percent.
• Creating a speedy "healthy express" checkout line for students not buying calorie-dense foods like desserts and chips, doubled the sales of healthy sandwiches.
• Moving the chocolate milk behind the plain milk led students to buy more plain milk.
• Keeping ice cream in a freezer with a closed opaque top significantly reduced the amount of ice cream taken.
• When cafeteria workers asked each child, "Do you want a salad?" salad sales increased by a third.
These tricks are neatly summarized in an interactive op-ed by Wansink and his colleagues in the New York Times.

It’s great to see research going onto school cafeteria behavioral psychology and I loved reading about these win-win techniques. They make sense, and if they sound familiar it’s because they’re similar to — or the exact opposite of — methods used to better sell food wherever food is sold.

It’s about time lunch-rooms started applying the methods the food and beverage service and retail industries have been studying and honing for decades. Industry has already discovered what makes us tick and what makes us buy — they have perfected the art of making stuff we had no idea we needed become the object of desire. Why not open their training books and steal some good ideas to try-out at school? Why not ask for their help?

Supermarket layout lessons

Whether you’re aware of it or not, the supermarket is laid out in a way that moves you where the owners want you to go. For starters, the necessities aren’t in any kind of sensible order, forcing shoppers to cover the entire floor for bread and milk. The necessities will then be occasionally shuffled around to prevent you from getting into too fast a rhythm while shopping.

It’s been established that most customers tend to look right when entering a supermarket — I have no idea why. That’s why special offers and promotions will be at your immediate right when you go beyond the supermarket’s wide open doors.

Shelf placement is very calculated. Since most shoppers are right handed placement on the right makes for better sales. Eye level products sell better, that’s why kid oriented food is lower on the shelf, and prime-time money making products are placed on shelves that are at adult shoppers' eye level.

Displays near checkouts and end-caps grab a lot of attention (while you’re waiting to pay) and can drive impulse shopping.

A well designed supermarket is inviting. It has nice signs outside and a welcoming, attractive appearance.

Food smells make you hungry. That’s why supermarkets bake bread, producing perhaps the most enticing food-smell of all.

School cafeteria ideas:

Why not try using the bag of tricks supermarkets established to lead kids towards the fruits and veggies? Why not bake whole wheat bread in the school cafeteria (the dough can be brought in, ready, as done in most supermarkets). “Checkout displays” in most school cafeterias include cookies and chips, a-la-carte items sold separate from the school lunch program (I suspect this placement isn’t by chance). Replace these with attractive fruit in an attractive basket, as the Cornell study suggests, and move the chips to a low bin under the salad bar.

Buying Incentives lessons

Discounts drive sales. Coupons drive sales. So do loyalty programs.

School cafeteria ideas:

Lots to think about here: Would a buy one get one free work for oranges? Should we be offering the 10th salad free? Homework-pass prized sweepstakes for the “I tried something new” club participants?

Lessons from restaurants

Big-time restaurant menus are carefully crafted by experts to get results. Menus are not written, they're engineered. The menu is designed to lead customers, subconsciously, to select the items that the restaurant wants them to go for. The name of the dish, the use of adjectives, the font and design, the placement on the page or menu board, the entrée’s paired sides— all these things matter. Descriptions matter too.

As we all know already, supersizing works. The size of the plate and of the portion on it affect consumption both ways.

School cafeteria ideas:

Give healthy dishes appetizing names — golden butternut squash puree sounds better than squash puree, and grilled tofu with summer green beans sounds so much more delicious than tofu and beans — studies show that a good name can lead to more trial and a more positive experience. Give the dish character; use some vivid adjectives. Give large portions of the veggie side, and small portions of the calorie dense entrée. Have at hand small dessert plates. Give artistic kids a chance to make the menu board entertaining and appetizing while promoting the healthy options.

I’m sure there are many more valuable ideas already in use by industry. Do you think the bright minds advising big-food and fast-food companies would mind sharing their expertise? After all the major food companies promised Michelle Obama and the Let’s Move campaign to support the effort to fight obesity as best they can, haven’t they? Just a suggestion.

Dr. Ayala

Read more from Dr. Ayala at  http://herbalwater.typepad.com/ 

Follow Dr. Ayala on  Twitter

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Ayala, these are some great, common-sense ideas that really could make a big difference. Wonderful post!
This is an amazing post. I hope this sort of thinking snowballs.
Dr. Ayala--these ideas sound great in some kind of utopian world. They really do, and they're worth reading. But given my own childrens' schools where they're struggling to keep science teachers and scrounging for enough money for field trips, this issue is unfortunately near the bottom of the list. I wish it weren't so, but it is. I think those ideas that don't cost any more, like asking children if they'd like a salad, is a good one. Placement is great. But anything that involves outlay of cash, like a freezer with a closed opaque top? Ain't happening.
Unfortunately some school districts in our region are entering contracts with soda companies to add revenue to their general budgets. I love the ideas Dr. Ayala, but I fear many school districts in my region are more concerned about revenue then the health of our children.
these ideas are not only sensible, they're cool! good job
@froggy I hear you! But I’d argue that many changes cost nothing, or close to nothing. All that’s needed is people who care about these issues, and we all should care.

Raising a generation in which a third of kids are overweight or obese, and so many are at risk of early onset chronic diseases like diabetes is what we really can’t afford.
@Val W The competitive foods at school, i.e. foods and beverages sold in the cafeteria, school store, a vending machine or in fundraising events are a huge problem.

Schools depend on the revenues that these sales bring to fund much-needed programs. This creates an unusual and worrying conflict, in which schools share an interest with the manufacturers of snacks and junk foods. It certainly doesn't serve our kids interests.
Wonderful!!!! Thank you for this post. I'm sharing it on Facebook. You make it sound so easy--and it should be. I'm behind you all the way. This is a HUGE problem... not just for "health" reasons like diabetes and obesity... but also for learning. A brain doesn't function well when fed crap. Children in schools are fed crap. It's not, as they say, rocket science. It doesn't have to be so hard to make a change. Your ideas are so simple and so brilliant. Thank you for this.
I am on the front lines and need to remind everyone that "we" have 20 minutes to serve and feed your child. If you have 6 classes of children to get through a line so they have time to eat that is our first priority. We love your children and try hard to make sure they are served a wonderful breakfast/ lunch THEY WILL EAT. We are understaffed, underpaid, and still we care about your child.
Yes these are all great ideas and yes we use most of them. We also sell healthful snacks because if we don't we don't make our budget, if we don't make our budget we take precious money from the teachers, if we do that your child suffers.
There is no one answer to fix this, but please keep in mind we are an intelligent, caring group of people and most of us have your childs best interest at heart. We are not the criminals here, we do not do things to hurt your child. Serve your child hummus at home and we will try serving it at school and TOGETHER maybe we can enact change.
Buffet style restaurants and cruises and self serve with little bags all promote the easiest and cheapest foods to produce, that return the highest "addictive" factor : people won't overeat vegetables, and then go back for more, because there is not enough glucose and fat and salt in them. It's the molecules they put in that enhance the "mindless" factor, and it is the engineering of those molecules, like MSG and aspartame and other "natural flavors", that bypass the thoughts and trigger compulsive eating and appetite. If those were banned from school cafeterias, we'd see a change in direction. Unfortunately that is how brand, processed name food gets your money. Because without those, it really doesn't taste good at all.
@Lunchlady 2
I really appreciate the comment, and second you with “TOGETHER maybe we can enact change”. We all need to pull whatever resources, ideas, influence and good-will we have to make our kids’ nutrition better.
Thank you for your good work.