Sure, revamped school lunch standards mean that kids have healthier choices than they did a few years ago. But are those fruits and veggies ending up in kids’ tummies, or in the trash?
Both, reports the first study on the subject, published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The percentage of kids in the researchers’ sample putting fruit on their trays rose from 52.7 percent before the guidelines went into effect in 2012 to 75.7 percent afterward. And while much of it ended up in the trash or compost bin, it remained the same as before the new guidelines (about 40 percent).
“Overall, the new requirements have led to improvements in student diets and have not resulted in increased food waste,” said lead investigator Juliana Cohen of the Harvard School of Public Health. “The new school meal standards are the strongest implemented by the USDA to date, and the improved dietary intakes will likely have important health implications for children.”
The study only examined 1,030 students at low-income elementary and middle schools in the Boston area, where researchers visited twice before the changes took place and twice after. The team found a big rise in kids picking veggies: Students who chose vegetables ate more than they had before (41 percent ate veggies after the new guidelines, up from 24.9 percent, and they ate almost a third of a cup, compared to .13 cups before the guidelines.)
“Many low-income students rely on school meals for up to half of their daily energy intake,” Cohen said. “Increased consumption of healthier foods during the school day may result in the displacement of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods that many students are exposed to after leaving school grounds.”
Photo: Tim Lauer/Wikipedia Commons