A year-long study of 6,000 pupils at 20 Sheffield primaries has helped produced a new practical guide which will help schools around the country serve up healthier lunches.
Sheffield University education expert Dr Caroline Sarojini Hart has produced The School Food Toolbox, which is full of simple strategies to create tasty options which children will choose for themselves.
She found that pupils navigated lunch menus and were selective in what they chose, often leading to imbalanced food consumption.
But Dr Hart found there were many ways to guide youngsters - such as offering half portions of cake and fruit to reduce the number of food choices which excluded fruit altogether.
During her research Dr Hart found a midday supervisor in one school stood with her back to the salad trolley, stopping pupils from getting to it. As a result not one pupil had salad during that sitting.
But in another school where the salad trolley was positioned in the centre of the room with two members of staff assisting pupils, uptake was much higher.
Dr Hart said: “The positioning of salad trolleys can influence the flow of pupils moving from the main food area and encourage pupils to stop and select items.
“Knowing how to maximise the setting to encourage good food habits is key.”
Her research also shows the importance of making food look visually appealing while pupils enjoyed smelling fresh herbs, spices and fruits.