If you serve it, they should eat it.

That used to be the American way, and perhaps the time is right to return to the principles of the World War I-era Clean Plate Club.

Yes, if the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new federal school lunch standards require that schools serve a half of cup of fruits or vegetables for each reimbursable school meal, then it should be the stated goal for kids to eat what is on their plate.

The Clean Plate Club, according to historical accounts, was first established inn 1917 to help promote the idea that kids could help in the war effort by cleaning their plate at school but skip eating between meals to conserve food shipped to Europe for the war effort. “At table I’ll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate. And I’ll not eat between meals, but for supper time I’ll wait,” was the pledge kids would take.

No doubt many of us, baby boomers and younger, heard the same refrain growing up. There are starving children in Africa, after all.

Of course, the idea of “cleaning your plate” has now come into heavy criticism, with one blog headline stating “Clean Plate Club: Obesifying Kids Since 1917.”

But is there something inherently wrong with wanting kids to “clean their plate,” particularly if the plate has the type of food kids need in a healthy diet?

Is this era of sustainability, shouldn’t we encourage kids to eat — not trash — fruits and veggies?

The School Nutrition Association wants Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lift the mandate that schools serve a half a cup or fruits or vegetables to kids when child nutrition legislation is reauthorized in 2015.
The association believes that requirement has led to increased program costs, plate waste, and a decline in student participation.

The issue of plate waste is an important one, of course.

As reported in THE PACKER, a study released in early March, Harvard School of Public Health researchers found the updated school nutrition standards helped boost fruit and vegetable selection in a study of 1,000 kids conducted both before and after new standards took effect in 2012.

The study found that after the new regulations, the percentage of students selecting a fruit increased from 52.7% to 75.7%. For students who selected a vegetable, both the percentage consumed (24.9% pre-implementation compared with 41.1% post-implementation) and cups per day consumed (0.13 cups/day compared with 0.31 cups/day) improved, according to a news release about the findings.

Harvard researchers said the updated standards that require schools to serve increased fruits and vegetables did not increase plate waste. Still, the study’s authors said plate waste remains significant, with students throwing away up to 75% of vegetables and 40% of fruits on their trays.

Readers react

Reader reaction to the online story was fascinating.

One said:

“Healthy eating needs to start at home, long before a child ever enters school. I agree with the increase of fruits and vegetables available to students. The waste bothers me too. What bothers me most ... many of the children I serve each day had no idea what a lot of the fruits and vegetables even were. Having never been served them before at home, that is something that needs to be addressed at home.”

Another weighed in:

“I would leave the fruit and vegetable mandate and remove the grain mandate. Fruits and vegetables aren’t contributing to the obesity epidemic but processed carbohydrates are. Study after study report how these carbs are stored as fat. It doesn’t matter if it’s whole grain rich, it is still going to elevate the blood sugar level and become fat if physical activity does not use it up quickly. The same can definitely not be said for fruits and vegetables. Natural vitamins, sugars and fiber are used more readily by the body, do not spike blood sugar and leave a full satisfied feeling in your stomach. Remove the grain mandate!!!”

A school foodservice official also expressed support for the mandate:

“This is terrible. As school foodservice professionals we are asked to make all these changes. Some very positive and some not so great. We finally have our students taking and eating the fruits and vegetables which they enjoy and now they want to take that guideline away. I really think if the students are throwing away the fruits and vegetables it really isn’t that they don’t like them its more that they want to talk with their friends and they just run out of time to eat them. Start worrying about the standards of the lower sodium. Stick with this first tier this coming fall and keep it at that.”

The School Nutrition Association is giving up on updated nutrition standards too easily. Why not encourage kids to clean their plate, and thus help drive needed increases in fruit and vegetable consumption at schools? It is disheartening to see the SNA to give up on the effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption.


What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.