Uncommon Act of Design: The Secret of Getting Kids to Eat Veggies? Move the Salad Bar

A new study out of Cornell produces bigger results than any food revolution or food-policy change could hope for.

Lately, Jamie Oliver's become a saint in his quest to change our attitudes towards food. And the White House and Michelle Obama have been flogging the idea of local produce, while making noise about changes in food policy, which gives woefully sums to big corn and red-meat farmers and contributes to making us fat.

But what if getting kids to eat more veggies is simpler than that? Like, waaaaaay simpler?

Laura Smith, a researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, has discovered that simply changing the placement of a middle school's salad bar can cause a spike in veggie consumption. 

What would your guess be on that spike? 15% 25%? 50%?

Try 250-300%. That's not a typo.

Smith basically discovered what Sizzler's known for decades. Instead of relegating the salad bar to the wall, she moved it four feet, so that it's in front of the cash registers. (As far as Sizzler is concerned, note that it's more profitable to fill people up on veggies, since they're cheaper and higher margin than steaks.)

"By the end of the year, this even led to 6% more kids eating school lunches," Smith said. "It's basic behavioral economics. We made it easier for them to make the right choice."

That, of course, opens up a fat opportunity for architects and designers: You can make people healthier simply by redesigning cafeterias, so that healthier options are easier to access and more prominent — not to mention, as we previously reported, turning corridors into inviting, creative spaces. Now get to work!

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  • Tom Weaver

    This is very interesting. As someone who has worked within school design for many years, specialising in the link between learning / working / dining etc and space, this is one of the first times I've seen such a direct and large, measurable correlation between a spatial intervention and a core policy agenda within a school context.

    Thanks to to Randy Deutsch for the book recommendation, looks like an interesting read.

    This is my take on the whole subject:


    Tom Weaver
    Director, Flywheel

  • Randy Deutsch

    "Uncommon?" The book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Prof. Cass R. Sunstein, covered this exact topic and provided reasons why and how placement of food within cafeterias impact their consumption. See the book or this presentation (esp. see slide 9) http://www.slideshare.net/sgmi...


  • Tyler Gray

    Stan, not sure what you mean by "crappy photoshopped picture." We spent months working to infiltrate the school system, posting a team of photojournalists--each posed as lunch ladies, custodial artists, or in one controversial case (that we ultimately deemed insensitive), a special needs student--in strategic schools around the country. After six months of having these photogs in the field, we assembled a team of editors, design experts, lawyers, professional chefs, and organic farmers to weigh the merits of literally thousands of photos we captured at and around school salad bars. In the end, we decided on one image that we thought captured the essence of this story. That is the picture you see above.

  • Chris Reich

    Here's another 'easy' tip. Remove bad choices. Sodas, candy, cookies and chips should not be offered at schools level k-9. We had excellent lunches when I was in school and no junk food was available.

    Chris Reich