Using behavioural science to encourage healthier eating in health and social care canteens

In June 2017, the Food Standards Agency, safefood and the Public Health Agency introduced the Minimum Nutritional Standards for Catering in Health and Social Care (HSC) for staff and visitors across all catering facilities, retails outlets and vending. The standards set out basic guidance for HSC catering in terms of, for example, portion sizes and acceptable fat/sugar content of certain foods.

The Innovation Lab has been working with these organisations to help implement the standards.


The outcome of a survey and workshop with stakeholders can be found at the link below:

A review of interventions designed to encourage healthier eating in canteen settings can be found at the link below:

How can we encourage staff and visitors to choose healthier options in health and social care canteens?

With new standards being rolled out across all HSC catering outlets, how can we encourage staff to actually select the healthier option while minimising profit loss for the outlet?

Our objectives for this project:

  1. generate and test hypotheses about customer purchasing of healthier food
  2. facilitate stakeholders to develop a shared structural understanding of their problem
  3. identify new and novel ideas to test through a literature review and user research
  4. conduct a desirability/feasibility/viability test on ideas selected for further development
  5. trial and implement ideas selected by the sponsor, users and stakeholders
  6. provide monitoring and evaluation of trials

We expect to deliver the following high level outcomes:

  • we will find and test ideas which have the potential to increase the purchasing of healthier food items in HSC canteens while minimising profit loss
  • we will identify the value and likely impact of those ideas

Phases of the project

Insight phase


  • online survey to stakeholder network followed by a design workshop to bring together all stakeholders in order to join up knowledge of the catering system, from procurement to service, and to identify where the Innovation Lab could add value
  • status: completed August 2017
  • outcome: view report 

Review of interventions designed to change consumer selection of food in canteen settings.

Baseline audit of canteens to gather data and insight into the operations of canteens, to understand any other innovation solutions that have been tried, and to identify a suitable location for a pilot test of a new intervention:

  • status: ongoing – to be complete by mid-June 2018

User research: qualitative research with staff and visitors of a HSC hospital canteen to understand eating habits and current attitudes/beliefs/knowledge about healthier options in their canteen and to understand a typical user journey through the canteen:

  • status: ongoing – to be completed by August 2018
  • outcome: a short report of the user research findings will be produced

Design and experimentation phases: Autumn 2018

Design phase

Intervention Design: based on the results of the literature review, user research, and idea generation workshops with stakeholders, an intervention will be designed to affect customer choice of healthier foods. An intervention may be coded with Mitchie et al. Behaviour Change Techniques within specific Intervention Functions so that any behaviour change observed can be replicated across other sites.

Service Design: if the intervention requires the delivery of a new or improved service, service design techniques will be used to make sure the user is the centre of the service

Experimentation phase

A pilot with a ‘safe’ (evidence-backed and ‘simple’) intervention will be trialled in one hospital canteen in order to test the trial process with staff on the ground. A second, more complex or more ‘innovative’ intervention will then be developed to trial. It is likely that we will be unable to run a randomized controlled trial because canteens are often very different from each other, but we will find a suitable control and will measure all outcomes before and after the intervention.


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