Psychology in a Chicago school lunchroom

Getting kids to eat smart isn’t as easy as making healthy, tasty food. At Holy Trinity High School in Chicago, chef Paul Boundas uses psychology too to help change habits. Incidentally, he has a background in clinical psychology in addition to culinary training. The Chicago Tribune reports on his success in making healthy food under the $2.74 per meal lunch budget.

His approach involves easing students gradually into healthier foods, making healthy meals tasty and attractive, hiring a passionate and skilled workforce, adapting his menus to market availability and responding to customer feedback.

“He doesn’t tell us what we have to eat,” said Holy Trinity senior and vegetarian Valerie Balthazar. “He asks us what we like and then he makes it healthier. My favorite dish is the stir-fried vegetables on top of brown rice. It feels like we are eating food from a restaurant.”

When Boundas ushers in healthy menu items, he avoids broadcasting it too loudly. When he switched to whole-grain pasta, for instance, he didn’t put up a sign about it until a month later.

So when a student came through the line and said he didn’t like whole-grain pasta, the cook was able to respond: “You’ve been eating it and liking it for four weeks.”

…”At first we did just a smidgen” of whole-wheat flour, (the pastry chef) said, “and now I am doing half and half. It’s easiest with things like oatmeal raisin cookies, apple crisp and now pancakes. But you can’t just switch them to granola overnight. In fact, I called something granola once, and they wouldn’t eat it, so now we say breakfast bar or power bar.”