School Lunches Are Making the Grade

The Lempert Report
March 20, 2015

How are students adapting to the healthier school meal standards?

According to a new study published in Childhood Obesity, since the USDA's healthier school meal standards went into effect, students are eating more fruit and throwing away less of their entrees and vegetables.

The study, conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, is one of the first to reliably measure school lunches and kids' consumption of entrees, fruits, vegetables, and milk - before and after the healthier standards took effect.

To conduct this research, students’ food selection, consumption, and waste were looked at. Food selections were photographed and weighed on lunch trays. Students from 12 middle schools in an urban school district were tracked for three years – from the spring of 2012 through the spring of 2014 – before the standards changed and two years after.

Results showed that, despite previous concerns, students are throwing away less food now than they were before the standards were in place. Other highlights of the study were:

*  Students were more likely to take fruit if a greater variety of fruit was offered. For every additional type of fruit offered, there was a significant increase (9 percent) in students who took fruit as part of their lunch.

* Fewer students chose a vegetable (68 percent in 2012 compared with 52 percent in 2014). However, the percentage of vegetables they consumed increased by nearly 20 percent, from 46 percent to 64 percent, which effectively decreased the amount of vegetables thrown away.

* Students consumed more of their lunch entrees (up from 71 percent of their entrée in the spring of 2012 to 84 percent in 2014), thus also decreasing food waste.

So what can supermarkets learn from this? This study shows that it is possible to change habits, and guide students to healthier options, especially if there is more than one healthy option for kids to choose from. Help busy families out by highlighting and putting on display healthy, tasty choices, whether they are snacks or meals. Target school kids with colorful and vibrants displays of healthy produce and nutritious snacks, and provide tips and informations so when kids are shopping with their parents they can get involved in what they're eating and understand the foods they should be consuming.