It’s one thing to offer students fruits and vegetables for school lunch; it’s another for them to actually eat them. Children who attend schools with Farm to School programs eat more fruits and vegetables, new University of Florida research shows.
In 2010, Congress passed the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. In approving the legislation, lawmakers wanted to improve children’s nutrition. As part of the law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially established the Farm to School (FTS) program to help schools increase the amount of local foods they serve in their cafeterias.
UF/IFAS researchers wanted to know the impact of locally procured produce on students’ consumption of fruits and vegetables served as part of on the National School Lunch Program menu. In this case, the FTS foods consisted mainly of raw vegetables, including leafy greens, cucumbers and peppers along with a few strawberries and blueberries.
To do this, the researchers reviewed how much food students threw in the garbage after lunch and compared that to the original serving amounts, said Jaclyn Kropp, a UF/IFAS associate professor of food and resource economics and lead author of the study. Researchers examined students at six elementary schools in Alachua County, Florida, before and after they implemented the FTS program.
They found that students at schools with a Farm to School program ate 37 percent more vegetables than the average student consumed before their school adopted the program. The children consumed 11 percent more fruit, the study found.
“These results indicate that sourcing produce locally has a positive impact on the consumption of vegetables and fruits,” Kropp said. “Further research is needed to determine if it is the quality of the products, product freshness or simply promotion of these products in the school cafeterias that is driving the behavior changes.”
Farm to School programs typically consist of these activities:
Local procurement of products served in school cafeterias.
Hand-on learning activities such as school gardens.
Integrated nutrition activities.
To assess the Farm to School program, the USDA began conducting an FTS census in 2013. According to the most recent FTS survey (2014), its programs reached more than 23.6 million children nationwide.
The study is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.