Could School Lunch Be Too Healthy?

More fresh fruit, whole grains, and healthier drinks at school lunch—it all sounds good to me. Over the last couple of years, the USDA has implemented new nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program. When I first blogged about the changes in 2012, I complained that they weren’t happening fast enough. But some districts feel that things have gone too far, too fast. In Waterford, Connecticut, for instance, the Superintendent told The Journal-Times that district is dropping the program because the requirements “restrict us a little too much” and that children throw away a lot of fruits and vegetables.

It’s true that wasting food has been a widespread problem. According to a new report from the government’s General Accounting Office, 40 states reported that they expected “plate waste” to be a challenge. But I don’t think that ditching the lunch program—to avoid the regulations—is the right answer. Instead, here are some things that might work:

* Collect uneaten whole fruit. Last year, I visited an elementary school in Flemington, New Jersey, that puts the uneaten oranges and apples in a basket outside of the nurses’ office so kids can grab a snack when they’re hungry. Talk to your school’s wellness committee about implementing this idea.
* Ask for choices. Suggest that the district give kids more options for produce. Rather than just handing kids a tray with steamed broccoli, let them choose between two veggies. Research shows that when kids have a say in their meal, they’re more likely to eat it. This will be a little more work for the staff kitchen (or food service provider) but it will be worth it if satisfaction and sales increase.
* Let your child know that you care. Most kids aren’t going to mention what they eat (and don’t eat) at lunch to you. So you have to bring it up. A simple “What did you eat at lunch today?” will get the conversation started. If your child is throwing away food because he didn’t have enough time to eat it, remind him that he can wait until the final call for trash—many kids think they’re out of time when they have 5 or even 10 minutes left.

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