A new study reveals that fruit and vegetables are not wasted more in low-income schools. The study, performed by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, says the fruit and vegetable intake of students has even increased over the past year.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its guidelines for school lunches, requiring schools to offer students easier access to fruit, vegetables and whole grains. At the time, critics said it would merely result into higher costs and more food waste, but researchers have proven these critics wrong. Juliana Cohen, lead study author, said, “The new requirements by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have improved the student’s diet and have not increased the overall food waste.” According to the researchers of the study, students chose fruit with their lunch in 76 percent of the times, compared to 51 percent before. Vegetables were chosen in 41 percent of the times, while this hardly reached 25 percent before the changes were put into effect.
Although the study shows that there was not more food wasted due to the changes in school lunches, it also shows that most students still throw out a lot of fruit and vegetables; however, this amount is roughly the same as before the guidelines were revised. Cohen says that the change in requirements for school lunches might not be enough and that schools ought to look into the quality and the palatability of the foods they offer. “They are kids and they are less likely to be drawn to a mountain of peas and carrots. It would be good if schools could offer fruit and vegetables in the form of a snack as well, for example a small bag of baby carrots or some sliced apple with cinnamon. It is also about the quality of the fruit and vegetables. No one wants to eat a brown banana,” she says.
The new study researched mainly low-income schools, as these require focus when it comes to nutrition, according to researchers. “Many low-income students rely on their school meals every day and they will not always have access to a nutritious meal at home, due to the circumstances. For some of them, school meals are about half of their daily energy intake and for this reason, school meals have significant implications on the student’s health and their school performance,” Cohen says.
Previous studies have shown that children are likely to try different foods eventually, including fruit, vegetables and whole grains, but only if they are repeatedly exposed to them. This means parents should continue to give their child nutritious meals and snacks rather than going the easy way, thinking it will be wasted. Cohen says, “Parents, please keep adding those apples and oranges to your child’s brown bag. Eventually, it will be eaten.”
Now that the Harvard School of Public Health has shown that fruit and vegetables are not wasted more in schools, compared to before, it hopes that further steps will be taken to continue to improve children’s health nationwide. Cohen recommends schools to be creative in engaging students to make healthier food choices, not only in, but also outside of school.
By Diana Herst