Sunday, February 6, 2011

This Week in School Food News

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Food corporations apparently are doing a heckuva job marketing their products to pre-schoolers. A recent study found that kids as young as three were able to match their favorite foods with product brands.

In one experiment, researchers at the University of Oregon looked at the association between the taste preferences of 108 preschool children and their emerging awareness of brands of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages.

The children were shown 36 randomly sorted product cards — 12 related to each of two popular fast-food chains, six related to each of the two leading cola companies, and six depicting non-related products. All of the children were able to place some of the product cards with the correct companies, which demonstrated that they recognized these brands.

Researchers say the results suggest that fast food and soda brand knowledge is linked to the development of a preference for sugar, fat and salt in food.

Message to parents: watch what your feed your kids.

T. Bettina Cornwell, a professor of marketing at the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business, says, "Repeated exposure builds taste preferences" for the sugar, fat and salt manufacturers use to hook consumers starting at the youngest possible ages.


Or maybe we should get rid of adults entirely and let kids design their own meals?

Research at the University of Bath in Great Britain suggests that children should play a central role in designing school meals. Commissioned by the Welsh Assembly, the university's report says students should have a real say in improving nutrition standards and how to make nutrition a central part of the school curriculum.

As part of the research, students were given an unprecedented level of influence over school food service, including interviewing vendors to find the best deals and designing cafeteria layouts to shorten lines and eliminate litter.

The proposed changes would make cafeterias less like businesses and more akin to social enterprises that become an integral part of school life. The report also suggests restricting off-campus eating and instead developing alternative food concessions for older students.

Paul Pivcevic, research team leader, said: “Changing the diet of school pupils is about more than just improving canteen provision. Every school needs a revolution to make nutrition and eating part of the very fabric of school.

“Schools," Pivcevic said, "need to support a sea change in pupil democracy and pupil-driven innovation to make fun and to ensure that eating at school impacts at home and on soaring obesity levels and health inequalities.

“The voices of children and young people will need to count in new and innovative, even challenging ways. Without their input and collaboration canteens will simply carry on as before, as an oversubscribed, under resourced re-fuelling stop in the middle of the day, a second best to most to eating at home, or eating on the high street.'


National Public Radio says Michelle Obama and Congress are late to the party when it comes to improving school meals. Other countries, NPR says, have been at it for at least a decade. And here's a slide show to illustrate what they've been up to.

One of my favorites is a photo of a plate in a London school loaded with potatoes, corn and peas. Under the USDA's proposed meal guidelines, all of those vegetables would be tightly restricted in school cafeterias as too starchy.

Guess NPR hasn't read the fine print in those guidelines yet.


Teaching kids about nutrition could mean getting them more involved in growing food. That's the thinking behind Alice Waters' "Edible Schoolyard" in Berkeley, Calif. And here's another program in Los Angeles that's getting kids involved with food on the ground level.

Too bad the rest of the country doesn't have California's year-round garden climate.


Some research has suggested that kids who participate in the federally-subsidized school meals program are fatter than kids who bring meals from home. Now comes research indicating that government food assistance programs contribute to the obesity epidemic in cities where the cost of living is high.

The reason: In more expensive cities, aid recipients resort to lower-cost, less nutritional foods.

This study was conducted by Elizabeth Rigby of The George Washington University and Rachel Tolbert Kimbro of Rice University. It was commissioned by the SRDC, housed at Mississippi State University, and it is part of the Food Assistance and Nutrition Information Series.

There are a variety of food-security programs designed to help low-income families stretch food budgets. In addition to SNAP and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, older children of low-income families are fed meals or snacks through child-care centers and schools.

"Because these programs reach children at young ages and influence what they eat, they have strong potential to combat obesity," the study found. "Yet in recent years, evidence has emerged that some of these programs may have counterproductive effects."

Fresh produce, for instance, is simply beyond the reach of aid recipients in more expensive urban areas. Too many people resort to less nutritious processed foods.


Schools in New Haven, Conn., are celebrating the addition of new salad bars in the cafeteria.

They are among the schools receiving salad bars as a result of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move Salad Bars to School!" campaign.

Ann Cooper, who's handling the application and grant process for the campaign out of her offices in Boulder, says they've already received $1 million in donations and delivered 400 salad bars since the effort began in January.

Organizers hope to place 6,000 salad bars in schools over the next three years.


Finally, according to TIME magazine, not all parents and school principals are happy about the USDA's proposed food guidelines, which would force schools to serve more whole grains and healthy vegetables, and cut back on french fries and processed foods.

Beef jerky, Rice Krispie treats and four varieties of Mazzio's pizza are a few of the à la carte choices in the lunchroom at Jenks High School outside Tulsa, Okla., where football is king and the players have royal appetites. But those items, plus the one-pint cartons of whole chocolate milk beloved by many players — average weight on the offensive line is 250 lb. — could be on the chopping block.

Same goes for the ice cream bars and Fruit Roll-Ups that make 7th grade tolerable for middle schoolers nationwide. And say goodbye to the cart laden with baked goods that a special-education class in Tooele, Utah, wheels around school every Friday to raise money for needy classmates.

"Just a typical unfunded mandate," sighs Jenks principal Mike Means as he contemplates guidelines predicted to cost schools an extra 14 cents per lunch — of which the feds will pay only 6 cents. Washington hopes that school districts will get more creative in controlling expenses and menu planning. Principal Means thinks kids about to enter the real world need to learn how to make choices on their own — without the government breathing down their gullet. Do they want a slice of pepperoni pizza or a healthier serving of turkey-pepperoni pie?

On the à la carte line at Jenks, healthier options have been introduced: baked chips, fruit cups and whole-grain Animal Crackers. Pat Meadows, who runs the school district's nutrition program, frets that if the changes get too radical, kids will rebel and parents will go back to sending in Lunchables and Twinkies.

"We had a Chick-fil-A night and made $800," says Emily Burns, a mother of three who sits on a PTA board at a Tulsa elementary school. "People feel bad" about the fried food, she admits a bit sheepishly, "but it's $800, and that can buy a piece of equipment for our school."

1 comment:

  1. Love the idea of kids having a central role in designing their food program. How inspiring. Definitely want to follow this....