These Report Cards Tell Parents What Their Kids Ate for Lunch

A pilot program in New York sent weekly emails to parents documenting their kids' school meal choices.
Are students more likely to make better food choices if they know their parents are watching? (Photo: David Buffington/Getty Images)
Jan 5, 2014· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Parents expect to receive a report card about their children's academic performance, but a school district in New York state also tried sending home report cards detailing students' lunch choices.

As part of a recent pilot program from Cornell University, 27 parents in a rural K-12 district were sent weekly emails documenting the types of food their kids purchased at lunch. The program's purpose was to test the method as a means of encouraging healthier eating in children.

The preliminary results, published in PLOS ONE, suggested that parents receiving Nutrition Report Cards (NRC) may impact the meals their child chooses at school. A sample email can be seen below.

The Atlantic reports that after the launch of the weekly Nutrition Report Cards, kids ordered cookies and flavored milk less often than the control group. They also ordered fruits and vegetables more frequently. However, ice cream and chip purchases remained about the same.

Still, the NRCs seemed to encourage more conversations about nutrition between parents and their children.

In followup interviews, one parent told researchers, "Keeping track of what my children were purchasing at school was helpful in talking with them about making better choices about food." Others reported that seeing their kids' weekly report cards inspired them to include more nutritious options at family meals.

According to the Cornell Chronicle, NRCs may be particularly beneficial to younger students who are just learning how to make independent meal choices.

But researchers note that scaling up the project to larger applications poses one particular concern. Combating childhood obesity has led schools in 19 states to send BMI Report Cards to parents—a move that critics say can increase social stigma and negative eating behaviors in children.

Nutrition Report Cards may be less incendiary, but Cornell researchers recommend that in order to avoid similarly negative consequences, schools "should be cautious of the risks associated with sending sensitive information to parents and should create NRCs that are easy to understand, avoid stigmatizing language, and contain actionable information."

It's too soon to tell if the report cards could work on a larger scale, but in the meantime, there are other ways that schools can help students choose healthier foods, including making whole fruits and vegetables easier to grab, eradicating sodas in favor of water, and giving children longer lunch periods.