This New Lunch Tray Design Could Make Your Kids Eat Healthier

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An author from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab has some seriously revolutionary ideas on getting kids to eat healthier by changing the design of their lunch tray. At first, I raised an eye-brow. As the mother of two school-age children who are big fans of the school’s cheesy pan pizza I have trouble believing there is much the cafeteria workers could do to affect change. The bad stuff is what they want and although they are forced to take both a fruit and vegetable serving, I know they don’t always eat it. The idea behind this tray design prototype is to hype up the veggies, essentially. By making the healthy foods appear less intimidating and easier to eat, this author hopes that this new lunch tray design could make your kids eat healthier.

Brian Wansink is the Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. His new book Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life aims to explain how “becoming slim by design works better than trying to become slim by willpower.” His book outlines how design can change our eating habits at home, in schools, in restaurants and grocery stores. In an excerpt of his book published by The Slate, he details how design can change the way a child eats in the school cafeteria:

When we ask kids what they want from school lunches, they say: bigger portions of foods they like, foods that are fun or “cool,” and foods that taste good. So the ideal tray would magically make the entrée, the starch, and the dessert look huge and satisfying (even if they were smaller), make the vegetable and fruit look enticing, keep the vegetable hot and the fruit cold, and make everything look like it was going to taste better.


How much you eat, how full you feel, and how much you like it are subjective and partly psychological. Similarly, eating the same amount of food on a smaller plate tricks us into thinking we’re more full. Foods that are the most visible and accessible appear the most natural to eat.

So we created a new tray that makes the entrée and starch look larger (and more satisfying), while it makes the vegetables and fruit appear smaller (and less intimidating); allows a full cup of vegetables to be served and stay hot; makes milk, fruit, and vegetables seem like a natural choice; and reduces the energy costs of cleaning.


This is amazing and one of those ideas where I wonder why no one thought of it sooner. We have long been told that using a smaller plate will trick our brains into thinking we are eating more food. It is a good diet trick to use a smaller plate and then load it up- it makes us think we are getting more food than we really are and helps us become satisfied on less food. I can totally see where a child could be similarly bamboozled by having a special veggie compartment that makes the portion look smaller while also, helping it stay hot. Even though my kids are good eaters, they will still be way less likely to eat their broccoli if it’s cold and rubbery.

This tray is still in the prototype phase but I would love to see it in my children’s elementary school. I know they use disposable trays now so it would be better for the environment and also, likely a cost savings over time if the cafeteria didn’t need to keep purchasing the disposables. I think parents, teachers and cafeteria employees need all of the tools possible to encourage kids to eat a healthy lunch and this is one idea that makes complete sense to me. I know it won’t excite my kids as much as the weekly ice cream we allow them to buy but they won’t know any better.

(Image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)