Close to 32 million children rely on school meals every day. Many of these meals are counted on to supplement children with up to half of their daily calories.
Your school’s “lunch lady” is more important than you think.
Recently, a new study sought to “evaluate the short- and long-term effects of chef-enhanced meals and extended exposure to choice architecture (strategies to promote healthier foods) on healthier school food selection and consumption.” This Modifying Eating and Lifestyles at School (MEALS) study was the partnership between the non-profit anti-hunger organization Project Bread, and researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Participating schools were randomly assigned into four groups:
- Weekly training and recipe design from a professionally trained chef.
- Choice architecture techniques (referred to as “smart café”). Choice architecture is the practice of “environmental nudges to promote healthier eating choices.” Such as placing vegetables at the front of a lunch buffet line so they are more likely to be chosen.
- A combination of #1 and #2.
- Control Schools that received no intervention.
“Our study was not testing whether a local celebrity chef was good for the school lunch program. Our goal was to have a chef who could work with the whole school district to train personnel and to design more palatable recipes without increasing the cost of the meal.” Eric Rimm (Professor, Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard Chan)
The result of MEALS stated that “the quality and taste of the food was much more impactful on consumption than were the effects of choice architecture.”
As a parent, you can help influence what happens in your child’s school cafeteria by educating yourself first. To find more information on Project Bread, and the Let’s Cook Healthy School Meals cook book, click here. “Let’s Cook Healthy School Meals is a first-of-its-kind tool to help school administrators and kitchen staff plan and prepare healthy meals for students that they will want to eat.”
When your school is promoting the best diet available in the lunch room they are also promoting your child’s best mind and body available in the classroom.