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`Lunch lady' lessons

July 24, 2006|Melissa Healy | Times Staff Writer

IT won't make a 20-minute lunch period seem longer or get the kid across the table to eat with his mouth closed. But when schools post the nutritional contents of their lunch options, high school students make healthier choices, are more satisfied with the menu -- and even find the fabled "lunch lady" a little friendlier.

"Giving students both choice and the information to help make the choice gives students feelings of empowerment and self-determination," says David Cranage, associate professor at Penn State's School of Hospitality Management, and one of the study's authors. "This makes them feel good about the food-service staff who supplied the choice and information."

An earlier study by Cranage and fellow researchers had found that nutritional postings improved students' food choices. In the current study, conducted at six Pennsylvania high schools, cafeteria workers at three schools were asked to post the nutritional content of all meal options right at the spot where students selected entrees. At three other schools, nothing changed.

At the schools where the dietary data were provided, students "consistently rated appearance and quality of food higher." And they rated the cafeteria staff as better and friendlier than students did at schools without the nutritional information.

The new findings were published in the July issue of the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management.

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