Meals served at public schools are getting better for kids’ health, federal officials said Thursday.
They’re lower in sodium, more likely to include whole grains and have more fruit and vegetable offerings than in years past, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey finds.
The CDC’s Caitlin Merlo and colleagues looked at surveys done at schools in 2000, 2006 and 2014. They wanted to see if new U.S. Department of Agriculture policies were affecting what’s being served in cafeterias.
“The standards require serving more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and gradually reducing sodium content over 10 years,” they wrote.
There have been changes, they found.
“Almost all schools offered whole grain foods each day for breakfast and lunch, and most offered two or more vegetables and two or more fruits each day for lunch,” they wrote in the CDC’s weekly report.
More than 97 percent of schools offered a whole grain option at breakfast and 94 percent did at lunch in 2014, they found.
“Most schools offered two or more vegetables (79.4 percent) and two or more fruits (78 percent) each day for lunch,” they added.
But fewer than a third had self-serve salad bars, and just over half had moved from salty canned vegetables to low-sodium options.
It’s important because most Americans kids do not eat well. “Most U.S. youth do not meet national recommendations for having a healthy diet, including consuming sufficient amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; this can put them at risk for weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases,” the researchers wrote.
“Additionally, approximately 90 percent of U.S. children consume more sodium than recommended.”
But another study published this week shows that kids may not be eating these healthier options.
Sarah Amin, a researcher at the University of Vermont, and colleagues found that kids throw away a lot of fruits and vegetables—and they toss out even more if they’re forced to put them on their trays.
They came up with a new way to measure what kids got served and compared it to what they threw away, and studied two Vermont elementary schools.
It showed a lot of waste. The kids ate about half a cup of fruits or vegetables each at a meal before. After the new guidelines, this fell slightly to 0.45 cups. “This amounts to 56 cups more that are wasted in each school per day after the guidelines,” Amin told NBC News.
“It’s a little bit discouraging.”
Amin, whose study is published in the journal Public Health Reports, says she will now set out to see what might make fruits and vegetables more appealing to kids so they’ll eat them.
She hopes younger children just starting school may be more open to the new style school lunches and may eat the good-for-you options with fewer complaints.
“We did find that one strategy that did encourage selection was pre-portioned fruits and vegetables — think of a package of baby carrots or a fruit cup,” she said.
“It may be beneficial to have it in a ready-to-eat way.”