Healthier school lunch guidelines means more fruits and veggies

Healthier school lunch guidelines means more fruits and veggies

New guidelines transform the school diet.

The updated school lunch guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) issued in the fall of 2012 have increased fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income students, according to a recentlly published study.

The new guidelines state schools must increase their offering of whole grain-rich foods; offer only fat-free or low-fat milk; ensure that there are both fruits and vegetables offered every day; reduced the amounts of saturated fat, trans-fat, and sodium in the foods offered; and, offer correct portion sizes to limit calories based on the age of the children being served.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, analyzed the food waste of 1,030 students from four low-income schools in Massachusetts, before and after the USDA guidelines were in place. Analysis found that, after the new guidelines were introduced, fruit selection increased by almost 23 percent. Researchers also noticed food waste did not increase after the new guidelines were introduced, suggesting students were actually eating the fruit rather than throwing it away.

Vegetable consumption also increased from 24.9 percent to 41.1 percent. In an analysis conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003, 78 percent of students in grades 9 to 12 consumed fewer than five servings of fruits and/or vegetables during the seven days before the survey.

According to the research team, led by Juliana Cohen of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, approximately 32 million US students eat school meals every day. They note that for many low-income students, school lunches account for up to 50 percent of their daily energy intake.

While researchers found no increase in food waste after the new standards were applied, they noted that large amounts of food still end up in the trash. Approximately 60 to 75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruits were discarded after they were served.

While the study is limited to 1,030 students at low-income elementary and middle schools in the Boston area, it is the first to track student trays from the lunch line to the trash can since new standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture went into effect.

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