The old thinking was that you could lead a kid to a healthy meal, but you couldn't make him eat it. Results of a five-year study in Minnesota, however, seem to refute that.
Crunching five years of data from school lunch programs, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that sales don't decline when healthier meals are served, and that more nutritious lunches don't necessarily cost schools more to produce.
The common belief is that trying to persuade children to eat healthy meals is hopeless. Rather than eat the fruits, vegetables and low-fat items served in the cafeteria, it has been assumed, students will bring their own lunches or eat snacks out of vending machines.
But the numbers in Minnesota indicate that when schools started serving healthy lunches, there was no falloff in demand from students. And, while the study found that serving better meals entails higher labor costs, that was offset by lower costs for more nutritious foods compared with processed foods.
The change, however, was not painless. School districts that took the healthy approach had to upgrade their kitchens, train their staff to prepare the foods and embrace a new way of serving food to students. But the payoff is healthier students.
This is only one part of the puzzle in fighting adolescent obesity. But at least a respectable study indicates that kids will eat healthier foods when they are served in the school cafeteria.
With luck, they might even come to prefer properly cooked, healthy meals to a diet of junk food.