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Schools add more fruits, veggies to the '3 Rs'

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© iStockphoto.com / Denis Pepin © iStockphoto.com / Denis Pepin

TUESDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- Under new U.S. guidelines on school lunches, low-income students are eating more fruits and vegetables, according to a new study.

And concerns that much healthful food would go to waste have proved unfounded. Still, there is substantial waste, even though the kids are eating more fruits and veggies, the researchers said.

"Many low-income students rely on school meals for up to half of their daily energy intake. Therefore, school meals can have important implications for student health," said the study's lead investigator, Juliana Cohen of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.

"Overall, the new requirements have led to improvements in student diets and have not resulted in increased food waste," she added.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012 revised its guidelines on school lunches, requiring that students have access to more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Under the new rules, children have to choose a fruit or a vegetable. Portion sizes for these fruits and vegetables are also larger.

In conducting the study, the researchers examined the amount of cafeteria food waste in four low-income urban schools in Massachusetts, before and after the new school lunch guidelines were issued.

The study, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that the amount of food waste in schools was roughly unchanged once the school lunch standards went into effect. However, kids did start eating more fruits and vegetables along with more food from their main entree.

The percentage of students choosing fruit with their lunch rose from 53 percent to 76 percent, but no more food was being wasted, the researchers found. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who selected a vegetable with their lunch rose from 25 percent to 41 percent. The study also showed the percentage of kids eating more of their lunch entree jumped from 72 percent to 88 percent.

However, students still throw out 60 percent to 75 percent of the vegetables and 40 percent of the fruit they are served. It's roughly the same amount that was wasted before the guidelines were revised, the study found.

"While the new standards make important changes by requiring reimbursable school meals to have increased quantities of fruits and vegetables and more vegetable variety, this may not be sufficient," said Cohen in a journal news release. "Schools must also focus on the quality and palatability of the fruits and vegetables offered and on creative methods to engage students to taste and participate in selection of menu items to decrease overall waste levels."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more information on nutrition for children.

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