Caterers in the education sector could influence pupils to make healthier food choices through the use of subtle ‘nudges’, a landmark pilot by Chartwells has found.
The Compass Group-owned outfit, which is a specialist provider of catering services to the education sector, carried out research to see if there were techniques linked to menu presentation and guidance that could be deployed to drive healthier eating in secondary schools.
Due to the success of the pilot, which saw an average increase of 8% in the take up of healthier choices, a new customised menu will be introduced nationwide to its portfolio of approximately 450 secondary schools after the Easter break.
With the aim to establish what ‘nudges’ influenced pupils to choose healthier dishes, Chartwells trialled the ‘Nudge, Nudge’ scheme in 15 secondary schools, where it serves around 7,500 school meals every day.
School menus were tailored to include a number of ‘nudging’ techniques.
These included red ‘heart’ stickers next to the more nutritious menu options to draw attention to the dishes; adjectives relating to texture, taste or smell describing the healthier choices; nutritionists’ picks positioned at the top of menus, placed at point-of-sale and promoted on posters, as well as being part of a loyalty card scheme; and educating students about the importance of healthy eating via assemblies, workshops and health stalls.
To measure the impact, schools were divided between those that had one of the nudges, all of the nudges and then schools which acted as the ‘control’ group who had no changes made to the menu.
The most successful nudge, aptly named ‘Follow Your Heart’, increased sales by 8%.
It was achieved through using red heart stickers on grab-and-go items such as selected sandwiches, fruit pots and water; and on menus for the nutritionist’s chosen main meals.
Education played an important role during the trial. Students at the three schools, where it was used as a nudge, enjoyed a huge uplift in their knowledge – scoring 85% post-trial when asked 10 questions on nutrition and healthy eating compared to 36% before.
These results show that using behavioural insights can lead to a real change in students eating habits
Nutritional education was delivered, by Chartwells, to the 1,000 students at the three schools through assemblies and health stalls, which encouraged pupils to ask questions and find out more.
As part of the national roll-out educational tools will be available to schools via Chartwells’ dedicated health and wellbeing programme ‘Beyond the Chartwells Kitchen’.
Richard Taylor, managing director of Chartwells, commented: “The results of the trial have provided us with so much insight into what more we can do to encourage healthy eating. Findings from this compelling pilot have been used to create new menus across our secondary schools and I am looking forward to seeing the positive impact these measures will make as we seek to improve nutritional awareness in schools.
“Healthy eating can improve productivity and increase energy and alertness. We believe that by working together and continuing to educate students about choosing more nutritious meals, schools as well as their pupils, will reap the benefits.”
School meals advisor and former LACA chair, Patricia Fellows MBE, is backing the initiative following the results of the trial.
She said: “These results show that using behavioural insights can lead to a real change in students eating habits, which could have a big impact on their futures. I congratulate Chartwells on the huge success of this project and hope that this initiative will be extended to other schools across the country.”
In addition to providing healthier food choices, Chartwells reintroduced its dedicated health and wellbeing programme ‘Beyond the Chartwells Kitchen’, at the start of this academic year.
The aim is to help young people, teachers and communities tackle issues like childhood obesity, mental health and lack of exercise.
Programme elements include food workshops, inspiring talks, teacher training courses and ‘pop-ins’ with a Chartwells registered nutritionist and go hand-in-hand in raising awareness of healthier eating with students.