Students have consumed more fruits and vegetables since the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented new school food standards, according to a study by Harvard University researchers that was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine
The new standards, created following the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, require schools to serve more grains, fruits, and vegetables.
The researchers collected plate waste data from 1,030 students in four schools in an unnamed urban, low-income school district both before and after the new standards went into effect to measure how much food students put on their trays and how much they threw away at the end of meal times. According a news release about the study:
Following the implementation of the new standards, fruit selection increased by 23 percent; entrée and vegetable selection remained unchanged. In addition, consumption of vegetables increased by 16.2 percent; fruit consumption was unchanged, but because more students selected fruit, overall, more fruit was consumed post-implementation."
Researchers said their findings also busted a common story line advanced by opponents of the new standards—that more of the healthy food was going into the trash than into students’ stomachs. But, while the overall amount of fruits and vegetables discarded went down following the standards’ implementation, the amount of food students threw away remained high. The release said:
Importantly, the new standards did not result in increased food waste, contradicting anecdotal reports from food-service directors, teachers, parents, and students that the regulations were causing an increase in waste due to both larger portion sizes and the requirement that students select a fruit or vegetable. However, high levels of fruit and vegetable waste continued to be a problem—students discarded roughly 60 perecent-75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruits on their trays. The authors say that schools must focus on improving food quality and palatability to reduce waste."
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.