Middle schools soon might add fast cafeteria lines to their menu of tools to help students eat healthier, according to Penn State researchers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded $40,000 from the Economic Research Service to Amit Sharma, assistant professor; Martha Conklin, associate professor, hospitality management; and Lisa Bailey-Davis, senior instructor of public health sciences, College of Medicine.
The project will use economic concepts to study the effect of fast cafeteria lines on healthy lunch choices for middle school students, Sharma said.
"Students have only a little over 30 minutes to eat lunch, and that includes time spent in the lunch line," Sharma said. "Our idea is to create a conducive environment where it is more convenient for students to make healthier food choices."
Sharma said convenience is the key. When students are pressed for time and face multiple food choices, they usually pick foods that are familiar and popular.
"Those choices, as you can imagine, usually aren't the most healthy ones," Sharma said.
To limit the time spent in line, the researchers worked on designing a fast service lane option for school cafeterias with limited food choices, called "meal deals." Students can select a main dish from limited options, for instance, but most of the side selections would be predetermined. Sharma expects that the strategy will reduce the time that students spend in the lunch lane and encourage them to chose fast lanes more often. The researchers will test the fast service lane at a local middle school.
The researchers will first collect information from students, parents, administrators and food service personnel about how students currently make food choices and which choices are the most popular. From that data, they will develop the food combinations for the fast service lane.
"We have to strike the right balance when we create the meal deals," said Sharma. "The food choices s
|Contact: Matt Swayne|