I know. You walked to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. But, now we are trying to create a generation of kids that eat something besides pizza and Red Bull. It turns out, the fix is simple at a school cafeteria. It’s all about presentation.
It’s a hard point to argue. The cardboard pizza with a side of fries, or a having the fruit and vegetable selections actually look edible. That part of the food pyramid should not look like left over ration cans.
Of course, to find this nugget of truth, we had to have a study – published by JAMA Pediatrics. Harvard’s School of Public Health surveyed 2,600 students in grades 3 and 8 at 14 elementary and middle schools. All the schools were in two low-income, urban districts in Massachusetts.
In some schools, a professional chef was brought in to train the cafeteria staff to better prepare meals for quality and taste. Yeah, it involves more than the oven and can opener. Mind blown.
In addition to the chef throwing it down for lunch, the schools received advice on how to present healthier options. Put fruits and vegetables in attractive containers. Regular milk should be placed in front of chocolate.
“The results highlight the importance of focusing on the palatability of school meals,” said the study’s lead author, Juliana Cohen, a research fellow in the nutrition department at Harvard School of Public Health.
“Partnerships with chefs can lead to substantial improvements in the quality of school meals and can be an economically feasible option for schools,” she added.
School Lunch Results
It took some time, but the kids came around to eating their veggies. At the three month mark, kids were 8 percent more likely to choose vegetables at the chef-assisted schools. The six-month mark? The number jumped to 30 percent for vegetables, and 20 percent for fruit.
“Additionally, this study shows that schools should not abandon healthier foods if they are initially met with resistance by students,” Cohen added.
As for the cardboard school pizza? There was no change in entree selection, and zero change in the consumption of regular milk over chocolate. Kids still love pizza, but if the baby carrots look good, they just might grab a cup.
Meals at school are a vital part of nutrition for the 32 million American children that eat at school everyday. In low-income areas, school meals make up half the calories the child consumes in a day.
Balancing taste with nutrition is vital for school districts. They are on the frontline of curbing the childhood obesity epidemic.