Just two years after new federal nutrition standards went into effect requiring U.S. schools to provide more healthful lunch options, a study conducted by the National School Nutrition Association reveals the dismal truth: most children aren’t making the switch. In fact, much of the healthier food is being tossed in the trash.
The National School Lunch Program provides meals for more than 30 million schoolchildren nationwide, but according to the study 81.2 percent of schools surveyed said they saw an increase in the amount of food being thrown away by students since the new standards took effect. That amounts to nearly 4 million dollars a day in wasted food, say researchers at Cornell University and Brigham Young University.
As part of the new standards, schools are now required to provide more fruits and vegetables, but just making healthy choices available may not be enough. “The concept is just wonderful—but in fact, if a student is only going to take it and then discard it—it’s going to be a waste,” said one school nutritionist.
Indeed, just putting healthy foods in front of kids is not a solution. Parents can help by setting the example at home and encouraging a healthy diet and lifestyle habits early on. Talking to kids about choosing the right foods (and why) as well as the importance of physical activity and a healthy body weight can have an impact on the choices they make in the school lunchroom. Getting them involved in the process of preparing and cooking dinner can also have lasting benefits.
It comes down to this: when kids see parents making healthier choices, they will want to do the same. Keep junk food out of the house, and encourage healthy snacking on low-sugar fruits, non-starchy veggies, dairy products, healthy fats and protein. That way, they’ll be more inclined to seek out those foods in the cafeteria.