Effect of classroom intervention on student food selection and plate waste: Evidence from a randomized control trial

PLoS One. 2020 Jan 9;15(1):e0226181. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226181. eCollection 2020.


Background: U.S. children are failing to meet the recommended daily 4 cups of fruits and vegetables. New federal guidelines were implemented for healthier school lunches for the National School Lunch Programs (NSLP). Consequently, students waste large amounts of fruits and vegetables. Several organizations advocate implementation of classroom nutrition education programs as a school nutrition policy.

Methods: We conducted a randomized control trial to evaluate the effectiveness of a classroom nutrition education on food consumption behavior of public elementary school students. Our intervention was designed to improve students' preferences for fruits and vegetables. We collected data using digital-photography, and estimated the amount of fruits and vegetables selected and wasted using ordinary least squares.

Results: The nutrition education program had no impact on the amount of fruits and vegetables selected by the students in the treatment group. We also find no significant difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables wasted by students in the treatment and control group.

Conclusion: Nutrition education did not change students' consumption behavior, implying the proposed policy might not be optimal. Inducing a behavioral change in elementary school students is an intricate process and might require more than classroom lessons to change their dietary habits.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Diet, Healthy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Food Assistance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Food Services / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Schools
  • Students / psychology*
  • Waste Products / statistics & numerical data*


  • Waste Products

Grant support

The study was funded through the grant "Integrating Farm to School Educational Content Into Classrooms” (sponsor agency: Indiana State Department of Health).