Kentucky school officials make foods look more appetizing and easier to eat, in order to decrease food waste

Some school districts are working to keep fruits and vegetables from being thrown out by students who seem to be unhappy with their school lunches that must follow stricter nutrition guidelines to get federal subsidies. “The key to getting students to eat healthier is to make the food look appetizing and easy to eat,” Rich Suwanski reports for the Messenger-Inquirer in Owensboro.

A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health in four low-income schools in Massachusetts found that while the guidelines had increased fruit and vegetable consumption, students threw away 60 percent of fresh vegetables and 40 percent of fresh fruits.

Lisa Sims, Daviess County Public Schools nutrition director, and Lisa McCarty, Owensboro Public Schools human resources and food services officer, are trying to keep that from happening in the county. Sometimes it’s as simple as “like cutting up the fruit to make it easier to eat,” Sims told Suwanski. “Even high school kids won’t eat apples and oranges whole because it’s more work, and they’ve got a short amount of time for their lunch break, so we slice the fruit and bag it. They could eat a whole apple if they wanted to, but that’s not what their lunch break is all about. It’s about socializing, too, and we realize that.”

McCarty told Suwanski that the Owensboro schools don’t see a lot of wasted fruit and vegetables, but they pay attention to what is being thrown out, and then figure out why. She told him they sometimes will swap out items to foods the students like better and make sure that the foods they serve look appealing.

Federal guidelines have also required schools to increase whole grains and decrease the sodium in their menus. The whole grain mandate began this year. Sims and McCarty told Suwanski that those changes have been a challenge, but by making them gradually, the students have adjusted. Shifts have been made toward offering whole-grain breads, biscuits, pizza crust, pasta and even the breading on the chicken.

“Little by little, we’ve been changing to whole grain and there’s not a lot of reaction against it, ” Simms told Suwanski. “Actually, we’re kind of surprised to see them taking the whole grain pasta.”

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