Updated federal nutrition standards mandate greater servings of fruits and vegetables in school meals and a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research seeks to determine if those added fruits and vegetables will actually be eaten by students.
In a USDA report called “Fruit and Vegetable Consumption by School Lunch Participants: Implications for the Success of New Nutrition Standards,” author Constance Newman used data from 2005 to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the new standards.
Newman said in the report there is a correlation with the amount of produce served to the amount eaten.
“We also find that more students at schools that met the new daily standards tried many of the new vegetables than did students at schools that did not meet the new daily standards,” according to the report.
The study found individual and school characteristics affected consumption:
- Younger students, female students, black students, Hispanic students, and those from a Spanish-speaking home were more likely to eat fruit and specific types of vegetables, particularly dark green and orange vegetables;
- Students at schools that had no à la carte options or only healthy à la carte options ate more dark green vegetables;
- Students identified as picky eaters by their parents were less likely to eat that almost all of the food types, particularly dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, and total vegetables; and
- Indicators of financial hardship or food insecurity were not significantly linked to higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, contrary to expectations.
Newman said many students did not eat any of the offered fruits and vegetables in 2005. She said that suggests additional methods should be considered to help kids meet nutritional goals. Those strategies might include increased availability of healthy foods and education about good nutrition in classrooms, according to the report.
“Given the positive correlations found in this report between consumption and providing foods in amounts that meet the new standards, children’s acceptance of fruit and vegetables may be more successful as more schools make them available, especially over time, and as schools develop additional strategies to encourage their consumption,” Newman said in her conclusion.