The scene is universal in elementary school: Kids throughout the cafeteria scarf down their lunches in a rush to get outside to recess.
Unless they hoodwink the lunchroom wranglers and skip lunch altogether.
Still others toss full cartons of milk, whole apples or entire meals in the garbage to gain more playground time. Many schools go to great lengths to make sure kids eat well and avoid waste, without much success.
For years, some have suggested that if it is impossible to stop most kids from putting recess ahead of eating their lunch, maybe schools need to schedule recess ahead of lunch.
Now, a new study by Brigham Young University and Cornell University is providing data to support the idea. The researchers found that when three schools in Orem, Utah, scheduled recess before lunch, kids ate 54 percent more vegetables and wasted far less fruit and vegetables.
Every school should switch schedules, said BYU economics professor Joe Price, lead author of the study published by the journal Preventive Medicine.
“Recess is a pretty big deal for most kids," Price said. "If you have kids choose between playing and eating their veggies, the time spent playing is going to win most of the time.
"You just don’t want to set the opportunity cost of good behaviors too high.”
In 2001, other researchers found that 4.6 percent of schools scheduled recess first, the New York Times reported. Some found it hard to get kids to come inside from recess for lunch, while others appreciated the chance to help students calm down before class resumes.
There's a new motivation. First, new federal guidelines in 2010 mandated that lunchrooms include a fruit side and a vegetable side with each school lunch. Daily tab: $5.4 million. Unfortunately, kids throw $3.8 million worth of those good foods in the trash each day.
More recently, First Lady Michelle Obama has led a push for healthier lunches.
Her efforts led to some odd meals that spawned a viral, sarcastic Twitter hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama, with tweets from school children including photos of gross-looking food.
Again, more food in the garbage.
That makes the study more welcome. It found a 45 percent increase in those eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables.
That could ease costs for schools dealing with increased expenses for the mandated "better" food.
“We found that if recess is held before lunch, students come to lunch with healthy appetites and less urgency and are more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables," said the study's co-author, Cornell University's David Just.
The study looked at three schools that reversed the lunch/recess schedule and four schools that continued with the old.
Reseachers collected 22,939 data points by standing next to trash cans and recording the servings of fruits and vegetables consumed or thrown away.
News of the study was published by multiple outlets, including U.S. News & World Report, the New York Times and CBS News.