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To Encourage Healthy Eating, Give Students More Options, Survey Says

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Michelle Obama Salad Bar School Lunch

School nutrition directors responding to a nationally representative survey recommended giving students options and opportunities for input as a way of encouraging them to eat healthier foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, at school.

Salad bars, pre-sliced fruits, and creative approaches to developing new recipes were among the most popular strategies for respondents to a survey commissioned by the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project—a joint initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Researchers also consulted a panel of school nutrition directors who've been recognized for improving their meal programs.

The findings come a few years after schools adopted heightened nutrition standards for school meals created under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Those standards, which include a requirement that schools serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, have drawn support from child well-being organizations that argue they are necessary to combat child obesity. The rules, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, have also attracted criticism from some school food groups that have argued they have led to increased discarded food or "plate waste" from students who don't want to eat the new offerings.

Respondents to the Pew survey said salad bars, which give students choice and customization options, were among the most effective ways to boost produce consumption in schools, reducing plate waste.

school_strategies_healthy_eating_table1.pngPanelists interviewed by the organization recommended treating the school cafeteria "as a restaurant and the students as customers," the report says. Among their recommendations:

  • Enlist students to help plan menus, design recipes, and market their ideas to their peers.
  • Connect with parents on social media to promote the benefits of school meals.
  • Regularly review school meal participation to determine whether meal offerings are successful.

Check out the whole report here and feel free to share your creative school food ideas in the comments.


Watch this video about Bertrand Weber, named an Education Week Leader to Learn From in 2014 for his efforts to bring "real food" to school cafeterias in Minneapolis.

Photo: First lady Michelle Obama joins students for a 2010 "Let's Move!" Salad Bars to Schools launch event at Riverside Elementary School in Miami. --Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Related reading on school lunches and school nutrition:

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