Too much food going to waste?

In January 2012, the USDA issued new school meal nutrition standards (The last update to school meals standards being over 15 years ago) which increased the amounts of fruits and vegetables served, emphasized whole grain-rich foods, required lower fat and nonfat milk, limited calories, and reduced saturated fat and sodium.

The problem is, even though the USDA has increased the amounts of foods served in schools and changed the meals to fit a healthy diet, not all students eat what they are served. In fact, according to the USDA, 60 percent of fresh vegetables and 40 percent of fresh fruit served in schools are being thrown away.

And a recent study released by the National School Nutrition Association found 81.2 percent of schools surveyed indicated an increase in the amount of food being thrown away by students since the new nutrition standards went into effect two years ago.

Gustavo Romo, a junior at Holtville High School has this to say, “A lot of food is thrown away, mostly the fruits and vegetables. Students just don’t care about healthy foods.”

Could it be that students have gotten so used to their diet outside of school, that school food (which has gotten better since the last couple of years) that they look at healthy school food with disgust?

According to Holtville High School junior, Jose Rogelio Juarez, the majority of the food being eaten in his advisory class are the sugary cereals and little packets of crackers Well, what can be done so that more students eat their fruits and vegetables at school?

According to the article,” Choices Can Slice School Food Waste,” by Luke Runyon September 23, 2014, the key to cutting down on waste in the lunchroom is choice. By allowing kids to make their own decisions, rather than asking lunch ladies to load up trays, you disarm their pickiness.

Another way of cutting down on waste is marketing. Healthy food marketing can change students attitudes about fruits and vegetables. Schools shouldn’t be afraid to get creative and can re-brand vegetables as things kids would actually clamor to get their hands on, say dietician Stephanie Smith. Try calling it “Super Power Cauliflower,” she says, or instead of green beans, “Laser Beans.” “Involve the students,” Smith said. “Let them help set the menu, get them more involved, that way they have more buy-in, their school lunch participation increases and hopefully waste decreases.”

Depletion of food waste is already being seen at Harris Elementary in Fort Collins, Colo., as a table fourth-graders clean their trays before raising their hands to be dismissed from the cafeteria. They ate all their food when society usually doesn’t.

We waste roughly 35 million tons of food a year. If consumers are really going to cut down on food waste, we’ll all have to start eating vegetables ourselves. Some schools recommend that recess should be moved to occur before lunch, with the idea that exercise increases appetite for water-dense foods.

The vegetable rejection has other downsides, too: Students in L.A. throw out at least $100,000 worth of food a day, as the L.A. Times recently found.

But McCarthy says that it’s better for students to take the produce, try it, and throw the bulk away than to not take it at all. Humans have a “neophobic response to new plant tastes,” he said. “If you travel and are introduced to new plant food, your body instinctively says, ‘No, I don’t like it.’”

This was nature’s way of keeping our paleolithic forbears from OD-ing on toxic mushrooms. But for modern humans, the natural aversion means it takes eight to 10 exposures, on average, for a child to learn to like a new vegetable.

To help make kids hungry for frisée rather than fries, And he said a school garden can go a long way in helping kids feel ownership and familiarity with greens.

Overall, the results are frustrating news for school lunch programs. It’s much easier for administrators to add produce to a menu than it is to convince 7th graders that kale is cool. L.A. Unified is now working with districts in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Orlando to spread the doctrine of healthy lunch food nationally. Let’s hope those areas think about how to get kids to actually eat the food that they spend months puzzling over.

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