More children are choosing and eating fruit with their lunches and kids are consuming more of their entrees and vegetables since the introduction of healthier school meals during the 2012-13 school year, a new study finds. The analysis, published March 4 in Childhood Obesity, is the first to reliably measure what students ate before and after the implementation of stronger national nutrition standards for school meal programs, and contradicts anecdotal reports about students rejecting healthier foods.
Researchers with the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut tracked middle school students for three years, photographing and weighing the foods they selected, ate, and threw away. Main findings include:
At Congress’ direction, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program in 2012 to reflect current science on kids’ dietary needs and eating habits. Under the revised rules, each lunch served with at least three food items—including a serving of fruit or vegetables—qualifies the school for a federal reimbursement.
Nationwide more than 90 percent of schools are meeting the updated lunch standards; the Rudd Center’s findings add to growing evidence that children generally enjoy the healthier cafeteria fare. A national survey of school leaders found widespread student acceptance of healthier meals across all grade levels, and polling shows that parents support the current nutrition standards for school meals and snacks by a 3-1 ratio.