A Fruitful Endeavor

04/23/2015  |  By Robert Jones

The march to provide healthier lunches in schools has been a rocky one. From the school lunch lady to the first lady herself, opinions vary on how to best improve the nutritional intake of America’s children. However, lost in the web of restrictions and guidelines is an often over looked aspect of dietary theory – consumption.

It is not enough to simply provide nutritionally sound food, particularly when this food more often finds the bottom of trash cans than it does stomachs. From a nutritional standpoint food is viewed in a vacuum of ingredients, percentages and portions – avoid these, don’t exceed this, control that.

For most people though, food is more than just a collection of data to be managed, it’s a source of passion. Eating has long been a sensuous activity, serving as a foundation for culture and socialization. To place strict restrictions on such an activity, especially when the fickle taste buds of children are involved, is bound to incur some backlash. This was never more apparent than during the beginning years of the Hunger-Free Kids Act, when outcries of wasted food, higher costs and decreased sales were rampant.

Fortunately things seem to be taking a turn for the better.

A recent study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut found that 84 percent of students are now consuming their entrees, opposed to 71 percent in 2012. There has also been a similar jump in fruit consumption, which has increased nearly 12 percent in the same time.

Much of this increase in healthy food consumption can be attributed to updated guidelines in government-aided meals. However, a healthy portion of the credit must also be given to the Nutritional Directors and other decision makers responsible for developing the meal plans within the schools. With experience and the assistance of new, fun healthy products, directors have been able to compromise and adjust to the tastes of students while still meeting nutritional requirements. The usage of fruit items in particular has proven to be effective, with increased consumption rates directly correlating with increased fruit offerings.

Rick Olson, a national broker in the school food industry has noticed this change as well, stating that “Nutritional directors are adapting to the consumer, which in this case is the students. They’re seeing that there are a variety of new fruit products that offer nutritional value and more importantly are enjoyed by students. It’s a win-win for both sides.”

After a rocky start it seems the march for healthier school lunches has finally hit paved ground. While most vegetable items are still lagging behind, the noticeable increase in entree and fruit consumption makes for a positive outcome so far. With improved guidelines and a continuous effort from school nutritionist kids are not only starting to eat healthy, but enjoy eating healthy, which bodes well for a future of empty trashcans and full stomachs.

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