School lunch programs are important pillars in the food system, as they impact children's health, local agriculture, and community food security. When offering a new lunch entrée that contains vegetables, schools must consider whether students will choose the new entrée to avoid low participation rates and decreased revenue. Previous research in marketing suggests that sampling (i.e. taste testing) can positively impact consumer choice. In terms of encouraging students to eat school lunch and particularly items that include vegetables, it is often assumed that sampling will help direct food choice to healthier items, but little research has investigated the impact of sampling on food choice in a school lunch environment. The objective of this research was to investigate in a pilot study whether providing samples of a vegetable-focused lunch entrée the day before it appeared on the school lunch menu increased National School Lunch Program (NSLP) participation. The study took place at a Vermont middle school in 2015. Four new vegetable-focused entrées were supplied over three consecutive months. During month two, the entrées were sampled at a middle school the day before they were offered for sale, and NSLP participation, as well as revenue was tracked over three months. Our results suggest that sampling may have a positive impact on NSLP participation rates and food service revenue, but that more research is needed to better assess how sampling can be utilized in the most efficacious way to promote NSLP participation and healthy eating patterns.
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© 2018 The Authors
Pope L, Roche E, Morgan CB, Kolodinsky J. Sampling tomorrow's lunch today: Examining the effect of sampling a vegetable-focused entrée on school lunch participation, a pilot study. Preventive medicine reports. 2018 Dec 1;12:152-7.