School Lunches Healthier, Just as Wasteful

Last week, a Harvard School of Public Health study exploring the impact of recent changes to school lunch came out with mixed news: students are eating more fruits and vegetables, but waste remains a problem.

After the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, new federal standards went into effect for the start of the 2012-2013 school year that increased the availability of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and dictated how much sodium and the kind of milk allowed. Additionally, students were required to take a fruit or vegetable.

image courtesy of TreeHugger.comAnecdotally, school staff said the stricter nutrition guidelines prompted more wasted food. To test that theory, the Harvard researchers conducted plate waste audits in Fall 2011 and Fall 2012 at elementary and middle schools in an urban, low-income area.

The results? Kids are eating more of their entrees (88%) and vegetables (41%) than before. This despite larger serving sizes for vegetables. Fruit consumption remained steady, despite the requirement that students take one piece (55%). That’s the wonderful news for our kids’ future health. 

The bad news: school food waste remains quite high–59 percent of vegetables are trashed! And more milk isn’t consumed, as students weren’t as excited about the shift to the non-flavored, skim or 1% versions.

While waste hasn’t increased, it remains a major issue. As the study concludes:

…the high levels of fruit and vegetable waste have been a continuous problem that warrants serious attention.

And that is how we end up with articles like “No Added Waste with New School Lunch Standards” that, way down toward the end, cite kids dumping 60 to 75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruit.

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