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Studies Find Widespread Student Acceptance of New Healthier School Lunches

Posted by Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy Under Secretary, USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in Food and Nutrition
Jul 22, 2014
School meals play a major role in shaping the diets and health of young people. FNS photo.
School meals play a major role in shaping the diets and health of young people. FNS photo.

With nearly 31 million students now participating in the National School Lunch Program each day, sound nutrition at school plays an essential role in supporting a healthier next generation.  But when the new standards were developed by pediatricians and other child nutrition experts, USDA was also looking for students to enjoy the healthier offerings they receive.

And according to a new report, the majority of our nation’s children are accepting these new school meals.  This great news is part of a just-released study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that finds 70 percent of elementary school leaders nationwide reported that students like the healthier school lunches that rolled out in fall 2012.  Other highlights of the research include:

  • Respondents at 70 percent of elementary schools reported that students liked the new lunches.
  • Across all grade levels, most respondents reported that students complained initially in fall 2012, but that far fewer students were complaining by the time of the surveys in spring 2013—showing that students like healthy food as they grow more accustomed to it.
  • Respondents from elementary and middle schools where a large proportion of the student body was eligible for free or reduced-price lunch reported that very few of the students were discarding the meal.

The Administration is dedicated to paving the way for a healthier future for our nation’s sons and daughters. Students across the country are enjoying a healthier school environment with more nutritious options as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  To address public concern about our nation’s obesity epidemic and our children’s current and future health, the updates significantly increased the amount of whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables in the meals, and set limits for sugars, fats and sodium.

These new standards have resulted in healthier meals for tens of millions of kids across the country.  The lead author of the study, Lindsey Turner, explained, “Our studies show that kids are okay with these changes, and that there have not been widespread challenges with kids not buying or eating the meals.”

We know that these types of changes in schools can have a positive impact on students.  Earlier research found that school-based programs that encourage healthy eating, physical activity and positive attitudes toward body image are among a range of interventions that can help reduce levels of childhood obesity.

Our children’s ability to learn in the classroom, grow up healthy, and reach their fullest potential depends on what we do right now to secure their future.  And it appears as if they and their families are embracing this commitment.

To see how students, school and cafeteria personnel view the new meals standards, based on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, view the video below:

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition