When children and teenagers aren't used to them, fruits and vegetables don't necessarily appeal to them, even when they are hungry. But that's no reason for school-lunch managers to quit trying to help students eat more healthful foods.
The longer they are exposed to good food choices, the better the chance students will at least try the fresh options, and, hopefully, many will eventually find out fruits and vegetables are pretty good.
A new law requires students to take a half-cup of fruits or vegetables, such as a small sliced apple or cucumber and carrot sticks. Both fruits and vegetables must show up on the lunch line. But, of course, requiring children and teens to put a certain food on their plates doesn't guarantee it will get eaten.
Some school districts in Utah have lost money because of the new requirements. Fresh fruit and vegetables cost more, and, initially at least, the menu change has meant more waste as kids dump the healthy, but unfamiliar, food in the trash.
Portion sizes of starchy foods have been reduced under the new law, and that has caused some complaints from older students, especially athletes.
Some students have simply quit eating school lunch, opting instead for fast food off-campus or lunch brought from home. That has also reduced the money coming in to the lunch program.
But the percentages of those leaving the program is relatively small 4 percent in the Ogden district, for example. And the possible benefits of enticing children and teens to eat a healthier diet is worth the monetary loss.
According to Census Bureau reports, in 2010, more than 10 percent of Utah high school students were overweight, and more than 6 percent were obese. Almost nine in 10 teenagers ate fewer than three vegetables per day, and seven in 10 teens ate fruit less than twice a day.
Overweight and poor nutrition are at epidemic proportions, both in the nation and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in Utah. A quarter of all children are at risk for health problems including diabetes, heart disease and even cancer because they are overweight.
The mission to change this trend has to begin somewhere. Children learn more than math and reading in school. The school culture and environment, including what is served at lunch, can influence their choices for life.
Providing healthy food options should be part of that.
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