Does Requiring Children To Select Fruits and Veggies Mean More Waste?

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By Kirsten Cowart

With just less than a month before Congress is supposed to vote on whether or not to reauthorize the controversial school lunch program for mandating healthier school lunches, a new study confirms rising suspicions.

Many students who are now required to choose a fruit or vegetable with their lunch are just throwing them into the trash. The children are actually consuming less fruit and veggies now than before the mandatory rule was put into place.  

Researchers Have Photographic Proof That Waste Has Increased

The study, which was published on the Public Health Reports this year, was the first study to use digital images to capture children’s lunch trays before and after they left the lunch line.  

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 went into effect in 2012 and this study collected data before it was enacted and after as well. When they compared the data, they found that when children were required to have veggies and fruit on their lunch tray, waste increased by around 35%.  

“The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption?” says researcher and lead author Sarah Amin, Ph.D. from Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont.

The answer was clearly no,” Sarah Amin said. It was heartbreaking to see so many students toss fruits like apples into the trash right after exiting the lunch line.

The Researchers Collected A Lot Of Data To Support Their Findings

The researchers observed almost 500 trays in over 10 visits to 2 different northeastern elementary schools before the mandatory rule went into effect. They then went back many more times afterwards and observed what happened after the children were required to have fruit or veggies on their tray.  

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Amin and her co-authors found that 40-60% of the students were of lower socioeconomic status and therefore, qualified for reduced or free school lunches. The digital images were found to be much more accurate in gathering data than other methods of observation.

The cameras were setup to photograph the children’s trays as they left the food line and then again right after passing by the food disposal area.  

“The beauty of this method is that you have the data to store and code to indicate what was selected, what was consumed and what was wasted as opposed to weighted plate waste, where everything needs to be done on site,” said Amin who hopes to make this technique more widely used among schools nationwide.

Researchers Make Suggestions To Schools To Increase Healthy Food Consumption

Based on trends of what the children actually eat, the researchers found a few things that may actually help children eat more healthy. Because they noticed that children seemed to quickly toss whole fruit and veggies, they instead suggested the following:

1. Cut up the vegetables and try serving them with a tasty dip or mix them with another part of the meal.  

2. Slice up fruits such as apples or oranges instead of serving them whole.

3. Get the children excited about eating plant foods by using strategies and programs such as school gardens and Farm-to-School activities. This will also help the children eat fruits and vegetables outside of lunch time as well.  

4. Educate the public and encourage healthy eating at home, which can help the children make better choices at school.

Amin feels that if programs and strategies like this are implemented that children will be much more likely to start eating healthy.  

“An important message is that guidelines need to be supplemented with other strategies to enrich fruit and vegetable consumption. We can’t give up hope yet.”

What do you do to encourage healthy eating among children? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

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Kirsten Campbell
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Kirsten Campbell

Kirsten Cowart is a writer and researcher that has worked in the spiritual, mental health and medical fields.Kirsten enjoys studying and experiencing the benefits of yoga, meditation, nutrition, herbalism, organic gardening and alternative health.She worked hard in 2014 losing over 40 lbs. and has since maintained a healthy lifestyle.Follow her to learn more about her journey on Twitter, Facebook & Youtube!
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