By Mike Pomranz
Updated August 20, 2015
© Avril O'Reilly / Alamy

“You are what you eat” is a mantra we’ve all heard since grade school. But “you are where you eat” could be just as important, as architects are finding that the way schools are designed can also affect students’ eating habits.

Fast Company recently spoke to Matt Trowbridge, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, who’s been looking into how the architecture of a school can make students healthier. Of course, some ideas seem obvious, like encouraging kids to be more active with stairways and walking paths. But others are far more subtle and can directly alter what kids eat.

For instance, putting healthy meals at kids’-eye level increases the odds students will grab them, as did putting salad bars near the checkout line. Making the kitchen visible to students also proved effective. And the way space is allocated is important, too, like building a teaching kitchen for kids to learn how to make healthy meals or finding space outdoors for a garden where students can grow their own veggies.

As Dina Sorensen, a project manager for an architecture firm that recently redesigned an elementary school in Virginia, points out, in the past, these are things that weren’t even considered, saying that in a lot of old school buildings, the “kitchens and cafeterias…have hardly been touched since the idea of school lunch came about in the 1930s.”

Trowbridge hopes exposing kids to these sorts of changes when they’re young will have a lifelong effect. “It's so much better to help prevent children from becoming obese than to try to help adults lose weight,” he said. “So that makes school environments incredibly important.”

Wait, so you’re saying I shouldn’t eat a sloppy Joe for lunch every day?