Children Not Eating Veggies Despite Healthy School Lunch Program

A new paper reported that the healthy lunch program implemented in U.S. schools has not drove children to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables as projected.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the National School Lunch Program with the aim of increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables (FV) of school kids. Through this program, kids were required to choose FVs for their lunch as part of the reimbursable school meal; however, researchers found that the program has been surrounded by numerous negative concerns such as the rising number of school food waste.

The researchers from the University of Vermont Burlington and University of California performed the study by initially conducting 10 school visits and observing about 498 lunch trays before the program was put into action. After a year of program implementation, the researchers then visited 11 schools and observed 944 trays, utilizing the verified dietary assessment tools. For each school visit and observation, the researchers selected pupils in the third, fourth and fifth grade and assigned them with a number. They then took digital photos of the students’ lunch trays before and after eating, after which the researchers tried to quantify what has been consumed and has been dump in the trash.

The findings of the study, published in Public Health Reports, show that more kids chose FVs in larger portions when it was mandated by the program compared to when it was still optional. However, the consumption of FVs slightly decreased when it was required compared to when the program was not yet in place. In numbers, the results can be translated as 29 percent more children took FVs when the program started, 13 percent less consumption of FVs were noted after the requirement and 56 percent more food was thrown away.

“The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption,” says Sarah A. Amin, the lead author of the study from the University of Vermont Burlington. As per the study results, the answer to this query is clearly no, she adds.

Although the study was conducted in only two schools in the Northeast area and cannot generalized the entire country, the study results may still provide valuable insights into the decision-making body that is tasked to reauthorize the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

The authors recommend giving the children more time as they will eventually learn how to eat right. Exposures should be increased through school programs and encouragement in the home setting. Schools may devise other ways to encourage children to eat more FVs such as serving sliced instead of whole fruit. “We can’t give up hope yet,” Amin closed.

Photo: US Department of Agriculture | Flickr