HARTFORD (CBS Connecticut) — Though many students may be loading up fruits and vegetables on their lunch trays, a lot of those aren’t actually being eaten.
New federal guidelines that require healthier school lunches are in effect, but a lot of children are simply throwing out fruits and vegetables instead of eating them, according to a new study.
University of Vermont researchers conducted a small study using digital photos to capture students’ lunch trays after selecting food, as they were leaving the lunch line, and then again after they passed their lunch trays to the food disposal area, as reported by CBS News. The study indicates that while more children are placing fruits and vegetables on their trays, they’re consuming fewer of them, with food waste increasing by 56 percent.
“We saw this as a great opportunity to access the policy change and ask a really important question, which was, ‘Does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable under the updated national school lunch program guidelines that came into effect in 2012 correspond with increased fruit and vegetable consumption?'” lead study author Sarah Amin told CBS News. “The answer was clearly no.”
The team of researchers evaluated hundred of tray observations over the course of 21 visits to two elementary school, both before and after the USDA guidelines were implemented.
Similar studies have been conducted on fruit and vegetable consumption in schools following the federal guidelines, though a 2014 Harvard School study found conflicting data that suggested kids were eating more fruits and vegetables.
Amin says while the study’s sample size was small, the findings shed light on concerns regarding kids’ responses to school meal regulations.
“We used rigorous, validated dietary assessment methods,” she told CBS News. “That’s what really bolsters our confidence in these findings. They may not be generalizable across the country. There might be different patterns depending on different sociodemographic characteristics, but for the schools we collected data on and in that time period using these methods, we’re confident in our findings.”
Researchers suggest that making fruits and vegetables more appealing to children may be a way to fix the issue. Strategies could include slicing them, offering them with dips, and incorporating them into other parts of the meal rather..
Amin notes that it might take time for schools to fully adjust to the new guidelines, and that as time goes on overall consumption will likely increase.
“The overall goal of these guidelines is to improve children’s dietary behaviors and ultimately address the childhood obesity epidemic, and so there needs to be patience to allow children time to adjust,” she said. “Change takes time. This really rocks the school nutrition world. We have to have patience with this and not give up hope yet.”