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School Lunches are Healthier Now—But Are Kids Eating Them?

A new study, published online in the journal of Public Health Reports, found that although children put more fruits and vegetables on their trays, they didn't actually eat them. 

African American girl holding lunch tray JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images
Since 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been implementing changes and new rules to the National School Lunch Program, which feeds approximately 31 million kids each school day. In hopes of getting kids to eat healthier, the USDA currently requires that children receive one fruit or one vegetable with each school meal. But as it turns out, this rule isn't actually increasing the amount of fruits and veggies schoolchildren consume.

Related: Digging into the New School Lunch Rules

A new study, published online in the journal of Public Health Reports, examined nearly 1,500 photographs taken of lunch trays both before and after the execution of the USDA program. The photos were taken at two elementary schools located in the Northeast region.

It was found that although children put more fruits and vegetables on their trays, they didn't actually eat them. About 35 percent of the healthy foods were thrown in the garbage, according to the study.

Researchers concluded that the fruit/vegetable requirement didn't correspond with consumption, and, instead, suggest that current guidelines be enhanced to get kids to make more healthful choices.

"There are some really promising strategies targeting school settings such as farm-to-school programs and school gardens that can help to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption in addition to what the cafeteria is providing," said study author Sarah Amin in a press release.

Other suggestions include serving dips (like peanut butter with a banana or hummus with carrots) and combining healthy foods with slightly less nutritious foods.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

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