When the federal government imposed updated standards for school lunches at the beginning of the 2012 school year, many critics claimed that the new requirement for kids to take at least one serving of vegetable or fruit would be a waste of money, with more produce winding up in the trash can. But Harvard School of Public Health researchers proved these critics wrong by measuring the amount of waste left behind on more than 1,000 elementary and middle school students’ lunch trays both before and after the standards were imposed.
The study, published last Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that vegetable consumption increased by 16 percent in lunches served during the 2012 school year compared with 2011. A larger percentage of kids in 2012 were choosing fruits: 53 percent in 2011 compared with 76 percent in 2012. With all the extra produce kids were forced to put on their trays, was there more thrown away?
“There was no increase in food waste,” said study leader Juliana Cohen, a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health. “Kids were actually eating the fruit or vegetable they were selecting.”
Sort of. Cohen and her colleagues found that kids still waste a lot of nutritious foods, discarding 60 to 75 percent of vegetables on their trays and 40 percent of fruit.