Brian Wansink, author of the bestselling book “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,” has been hired to help improve school lunches. Wansink, former director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and director of the food and brand lab at Cornell University, has long been successful at getting people to make healthier choices. His book focuses on how people make hundreds of decisions each day about food. His belief that people make different food choices based upon their environment has recently been put to trial in Wichita cafeterias and will be slowly moving nationwide.
Studies have long shown that people eat far more than they need or realize based on the size of their plates, glasses, and serving bowls, eating while watching TV or having food in easy to access locations. It’s also been shown recently that nearly half of all calories ingested by children come from junk food sources. Nearly one-third of children are overweight or obese. Putting all of these factors together, it is obvious that there is much work that needs to be done to get children to make healthier choices.
In recent trials in Wichita, closing the ice cream freezer, keeping the ice cream out of sight and renaming green beans as “lean, mean green beans” resulted in a drop in sales of ice cream and an increase in vegetable consumption. Allowing the cafeteria workers to offer salads, instead of waiting for children to ask for them, resulted in an increase in sales of more than 30 percent. Forcing healthier foods on children hasn’t been successful, and so the USDA is working with Wansink to understand the psychology behind getting students to make better choices.
Wansink chose Wichita for his inaugural efforts in part due to the ongoing efforts of the school district. In years past, both administrators and teachers have taken part in the TOPS weight loss program. In addition, employees who participate in wellness activities year round can have their health insurance premiums waived.