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Food services workers taking actions in attempt to reduce Daviess Co., Owensboro Ind. students who throw away fruits, vegetables in federally required cafeteria meals

Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Sept. 26, 2014

Study: Students tossing more fruits, vegetables
By Rich Suwanski

According to a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health, United States students throw away a high percentage of fruit and vegetables that the new federal nutrition standards say they are required to take at school meals.

The study said 60 percent of fresh vegetables and 40 percent of fresh fruit have been discarded by students.

The National School Lunch Program, which feeds 31 million students in the U.S. and is operated by the Department of Agriculture, is designed to make students healthier.

Lisa Sims, Daviess County Public Schools Nutrition director, and Lisa McCarty, Owensboro Public Schools Human Resources and Food Services Officer, said the key to getting students to eat healthier is to make the food look appetizing and easy to eat.

"We've heard stories about kids throwing food away so we've taken preventative measures, like cutting up the fruit to make it easier to eat," Sims said.

"Even high school kids won't eat apples and oranges whole because it's more work, and they've got a short amount of time for their lunch break, so we slice the fruit and bag it. They could eat a whole apple if they wanted to, but that's not what their lunch break is all about. It's about socializing, too, and we realize that."

McCarty said OPS doesn't see a lot of wasted fruit and vegetables, but if a certain food item is getting discarded more than others, nutrition officials take note and try to figure out why.

Sometimes changing out that one item for another may be warranted.

"We sample food and if the kids like it, we order it," McCarty said. "Most people eat with their eyes. If it looks good, they'll eat it.

"But we've revamped our menus two or three times because kids didn't like something. We stopped serving a veggie beef casserole because it didn't look appealing and kids didn't eat it. It tasted good, but they wouldn't eat it."

Federal nutrition guidelines also require more whole grains and low sodium in schools' menu offerings. Sims and McCarty said it can be tricky finding items that satisfy both the guidelines and students' taste buds.

"We've been using a whole grain biscuit for a while, but when the kids see dark bread or a dark biscuit, they're not sure if they want it," McCarty said. "It's not bad, it's just different, and they're not used to it."

Sims said DCPS has been using whole grain crust for its pizza "and most kids can't tell the difference."

"And the breading on the chicken is whole grain, too," she said. "Little by little, we've been changing to whole grain and there's not a lot of reaction against it. Actually, we're kind of surprised to see them taking the whole grain pasta."

Sims said she was in Washington, D.C., last year to meet with legislators about school nutrition and voiced her concern about one item in particular.

"I said, ‘You don't know Southern people. You're messing with our biscuits making them whole grain,'" she said. "‘You don't know what you're doing.'"

The whole grain mandate didn't begin until this year, but last year, DCPS kept white biscuits for breakfast and used whole grain breads and buns at lunch.

"We've been transitioning to whole grains for some time now so the kids get used to it," Sims said. "A lot of our changes came gradually."

Sims said it's also important that the cafeteria staff stays positive about the healthier menu.

"Their attitude is a big part in making a good transition for the kids," she said. "Kids have always been throwing food away, and it might be a little different volume now, but not a whole lot different."

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