When the federal government imposed updated standards for school lunches at the beginning of the 2012 school year, many critics claimed that the new requirement for kids to take at least one vegetable or fruit serving would just be a waste of money leading to more produce winding up in the trash can. But Harvard School of Public Health researchers proved these critics wrong by measuring the amount of waste left behind on more than 1,000 elementary and middle school students’ lunch trays both before and after the standards were imposed.
The study, published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that vegetable consumption increased by 16 percent in lunches served during the 2012 school year compared to during 2011. Fruit consumption remained the same, but the percentage of those who chose a fruit with their school lunch increased from 53 percent in 2011 to 76 percent in 2012. How about all of those uneaten apples and green beans winding up in the compost heap?
“There was no increase in food waste,” said study leader Juliana Cohen, a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health. “Kids were actually eating the fruit or vegetable they were selecting.”