From what I’ve heard, the dreaded school lunch hasn’t changed much in the decades since I attended elementary school.
Sure, children in many places are now required to take one fruit and one vegetable serving as they go through the line.
Much like days gone by, most of the food still ends up in garbage cans.
But Monsanto wants to change that.
The Creve Couer, Mo.-based parent company of Seminis vegetable seeds has been working with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to find fruits and vegetables that kids will actually eat, said David Stark, vice president of global trade partnerships.
But the program can’t stop with just schools. It also has to involve local growers and retailers, since most students don’t eat all of their meals at school, he said.
“We want to link with local groceries so families can bring it home so we’ll have an impact,” Stark said.
Monsanto plans to work with several schools in Florida this fall to measure what produce items kids take at lunch, what they eat and what they throw away.
A Texas A&M University study, funded by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, took a similar approach and measured the produce items elementary school students ate in Bryan, Texas, and Dallas and how much they threw in trash cans. The results are expected to be released this fall,
Monsanto’s fall study should mesh well with tastings the firm already has conducted using student panelists, Stark said.
Students were presented with several produce items and asked to taste each one and rate them.
This is an ongoing program, but Starks said good-tasting melons already have proven to be a kid favorite. In fact, he said, once they taste the melon, the students don’t want to move onto the next item.
Other items that require a bit of prodding but elicit a positive response once they’re consumed include orange grape tomatoes and some sweeter varieties of red grape tomatoes, he said.
Romaine lettuce, a salad bar staple, doesn’t do well at all, Stark said.
But Monsanto’s Frescada, a cross between iceberg and romaine, did better, probably because of its crunchiness, he said.
The keys will be identifying fruits and vegetables that kids like and then schools being able to purchase them from local growers at prices that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture rules, Stark said.
It’s still early in the process, but Stark said he’s optimistic the program will help increase fresh produce consumption among children.
“I’m excited because we’re focusing on the produce and on flavor and involving the kids in what they like,” he said.
This sounds like it could be a winning recipe for improved school nutrition.
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