HEADLINES Published September8, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Kids Don’t Eat the Veggies and Fruit They Get in School Lunches

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A first grader with his school lunch.
(Photo : William Thomas Cain, Getty Images )

Children who eat lunch at school must be able to select a fruit or a vegetable at each meal. That requirement was set by the Department of Agriculture in 2012 and school districts altered their lunch offerings so that they met the new regulations. The new rules are working, but not really working well, according to a study in Public Health Reports. Kids are choosing a fruit and vegetable more frequently with each lunch, but they are also throwing them out more frequently.

In this study, researchers videotaped nearly 500 children during their school lunch before the new rules went into effect. Then they videotaped nearly 950 different children during their school lunch after the new regulations took effect, as they went through the lunch line.

The good news is that more children selected fruits or vegetables after the new rules went into effect. They took an average of 0.89 cups of fruit or vegetable from the lunch line compared with 0.69 cups before the rule change. The bad news is that the amount they actually consumed went down after the new rules. Vegetable and fruit consumption dropped to 0.45 cups, down from 0.51 before. The kids were throwing out the required fruit and vegetable at a rate 35% higher than before the rules were instituted.

Despite these findings, the authors of the study say not to give up on offering kids more fruit and vegetable at lunch. The amount of food being thrown out may be a factor of having more choices. It may take repeated exposure to new foods and time before children become familiar with them and develop preferences. "Cutting up vegetables and serving them with dip and slicing fruit, such as oranges and apples, can positively influence students' [fruit and vegetable] selection and consumption by making [fruits and vegetables] more accessible and appealing," they wrote. 

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