The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) updated school lunch guidelines have increased fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income students, Medical News Today reported.
In 2012, the USDA recommended schools improve the nutritional quality of their lunches, including adding more whole grains, offering fruits and vegetables and only fat-free or low-fat milk, reducing saturated fat, trans fat and sodium and monitoring portion sizes for calorie control.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, analyzed the food waste of 1,030 students from four low-income schools in Massachusetts, before and after the USDA guidelines were in place. Analysis found that, after the new guidelines were introduced, fruit selection increased by almost 23 percent. Researchers also noticed food waste did not increase after the new guidelines were introduced, suggesting students were actually eating the fruit rather than throwing it away.
Vegetable consumption also increased from 24.9 percent to 41.1 percent.
According to researchers, approximately 32 million US students eat school meals daily. For many low-income students, school lunches amount to up to 50 percent of their daily energy intake.
While researchers found no increase in food waste after the new standards were applied, they noted that large amounts of food still end up in the trash. Approximately 60 to 75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruits were discarded after they were served.
"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," study author Juliana Cohen, of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said.