Clean plate club needed again

03/14/2014 10:01:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstIf 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 public health goal for kids to eat what is on their plate.

The Clean Plate Club, according to historical accounts, was first established in 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, in 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.


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