Wasting their 5 a day? Examining school children’s lunchtime habits

School Lunch
The October Nutrition Society Paper of the Month is from Public Health Nutrition and is entitled ‘Food choice, plate wastes and nutrient intake of elementary- and middle-school students participating in the US National School Lunch Program’.
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alf of Stephanie L Smith

Elementary and middle school students, eating school lunch, do not frequently select vegetables and waste considerably more fruits and vegetables than the entrée or milk, a new study, published in Public Health Nutrition, from Colorado State University (CSU) shows.

Plate waste was assessed for a 5-day period in each of three Northern Colorado elementary schools and two middle schools to determine what foods students were choosing for lunch and what foods they were wasting. We also compared the students’ average nutrient intake from lunch with the recently implemented and stronger standards mandated by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010.

A total of 535 elementary-school students and 364 middle-school students participated in the plate waste assessment. Approximately half the students were male and half were female. We found students were much less likely to choose vegetables with their lunch and even when they did, they wasted 30-50%. Additionally, while students selected fruit more often, they also wasted as much as 50% of the fruit they took. As a result, few students’ lunch consumption met the new HHFKA standards. Due to the relatively low intake of vegetables, intakes of vitamins A and C were of particular concern.

All US school lunches are required to meet the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans and planned to ensure students receive at least one-third of their daily nutrient needs at lunch. However, if students do not choose and/or eat the fruits and vegetables offered, as the results of this study show, they will likely miss key nutrients such as Vitamins A and C, iron, and fibre.

Results of the present study show a need for multifaceted nutrition education and marketing strategies to improve students’ selection and consumption of vegetables with school lunch. Dr. Cunningham-Sabo, Research Associate Stephanie Smith and their team are involved in ongoing research to implement effective behavioral interventions, combined with marketing, communication messages and behavioral economics to improve children’s fruit and vegetable preferences and consumption. Lead author, Smith says “we are working with the schools in Northern Colorado on a number of strategies to improve children’s fruit and vegetable intake. The stronger school meal standards will only benefit children if they actually take the foods and eat them.”

This paper is freely available for one month via the following link: journals.cambridge.org/ns/oct13

Nutrition Society Paper of the Month

Each month a paper is selected by one of the Editors of the five Nutrition Society Publications (British Journal of NutritionPublic Health NutritionNutrition Research ReviewsProceedings of the Nutrition Society and Journal of Nutritional Science). This paper is freely available for one month.

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2 Responses to Wasting their 5 a day? Examining school children’s lunchtime habits

  1. Pingback: Nudge children to eat more vegetables | Cambridge Medicine

  2. Nice blog…thanks a lot for sharing very useful content …

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