Study Says Kids Eating Healthier Thanks To National Nutrition Mandates

Mar 16, 2015

2012 USDA school lunch nutrition standards increase servings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables while limiting saturated and trans fats, sodium and calories — and they appear to be working.
Credit DC Central Kitchen

It’s National Nutrition Month, meaning it couldn’t be a better time to hear that the 2012 USDA school lunch nutrition standards are working. A new study published by Yale University, the University of Connecticut and the University of California, Berkeley has shown healthful results.

Researchers from these schools took photographs of kids’ plates before and after lunch in 12 elementary and middle schools. They found that since the launch of the updated nutrition standards fruit consumption increased significantly with 66 percent of the kids choosing fruit in 2014, up from 54 percent in 2012. Although the study found that the percentage of kids who chose vegetables decreased, it showed that students who put vegetables on their plate consumed nearly 20 percent more.

Leasa Hill, food service director for Colusa County Unified School District, said it’s a trend she’s noticed and that looking at it overall, “I would definitely think that kids are way more open to trying fruits and vegetables than they ever were before.”

Hill attributes kids’ increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables to not only having greater access to them, but also to creative food service techniques, like adding fruits and vegetables into dishes kids already know and want to eat. 

“So before when I would get them a serving of rice, it would be our serving of our rice, with our chicken broth in it to give it flavor, or spice it up for a Spanish style. Now we do a veggied rice. And we put in sautéed vegetables in that rice, and we’ve done it little by little to where you know they’re still taking it just like they always did, and now they’re used to it having that vegetable in there and a lot of them even want it in there.” 

The new school nutrition standards include targets for calories, sodium and saturated and trans fats. They also limit daily protein servings and increase servings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.