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Chartwells successfully ‘nudges’ secondary school pupils to eat more healthily


Using a scientific approach to behavioural change Chartwells, the leading specialist provider of catering to the education sector, has identified a number of ‘nudges’ that can be taken 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 piloted the ‘Nudge, Nudge’ scheme in 15 secondary schools, where they serve 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; nutritionist’s 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; 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.

The ‘Follow Your Heart’ nudge resonated with students at the schools involved in the trial: “The heart stickers on the sandwiches definitely made them stand out from the others and grabbed my attention at lunch” one year 7 pupil commented and Chartwells on-site colleagues also confirmed this in their feedback.  

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. 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, Chartwells commented: “Encouraging healthier eating is core to our activity as we know that often school meals may be a child’s main meal of the day. 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 has also backed this impressive initiative by saying: “I’m delighted to endorse ‘Nudge, Nudge’, anything that encourages students in secondary schools to make healthier choices from the school lunch menu gets my full support.

“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.


Corn Black Eye Bean & Feta Wrap 'Follow Your Heart' dish on the new spring/summer menu.