Written by Milt Miller – Marissa Parisi, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont, calls the recent study conducted by the University of Vermont (UVM) inaccurate and outdated. She (Ms. Parisi) states that the study was conducted only in spring semester 2012 and again in the spring of 2013, to show a before and after picture of what was happening the first year of the new guidelines. The study conducted by the University of Vermont, filmed what students were taking for lunch and also filmed what they were actually throwing into the trash. The study was conducted at two schools in Vermont during the spring semester of 2012 and again in the spring of 2013. Based on the dates the study was conducted and noting the fact that the results were published in 2015, yes the data is of a historical nature showing the results at the beginning of the guidelines implementation and the year after. Ms. Parisi said, “All of us working in the school nutrition and food security field were blindsided by a study published last week by University of Vermont researchers claiming that children were throwing out more fresh fruits and vegetables from their school lunches after an increase in nutrition requirements was implemented in the fall of 2012.” She further stated, “The new guidelines require a larger variety of fresh fruits and vegetables be served to children along with whole-grain-rich breads and pasta, lean proteins, and low-fat milk. The new guidelines also require children to take at least a small amount (one-half cup) of fruit and or vegetable on their tray to encourage them to eat these healthy foods. That was a big change for children and schools. As everyone who has ever tried to change their diet can attest, it takes time and creativity to make a lasting change.”
While I agree that the data released on fruit and vegetable consumption in schools was of a historical nature, the thought processes behind them were correct. It appears the researchers were questioning the sagacity of forcing students to take unwanted items which resulted in waste. The survey further stated that educational programming and serving fruits and vegetables in a manner more acceptable to students would improve upon these waste issues. The survey further pointed out that, patience, nutrition education, and time would solve these issues. As far as being blindsided by the study, unless you don’t have any contact with the media, one should be aware of the issue as it has been bandied since the guidelines implementation. The SNA has published this issue at least twice in its position papers. Medical journals nationwide have discussed this issue. Blog posts on this issue go online every day, how can this survey’s results be considered as blindsiding?
Ms. Parisi went on to state that, “It has taken time, patience, and encouragement, but across the board both locally and nationally school nutrition staff and advocates have seen increased consumption of fruits and vegetables in our schools. There are now many more opportunities for farm-to-school programming, and Sen. Patrick Leahy has co-sponsored the Farm to School Act of 2015 to significantly increase grant funding for schools to expand their farm-to-school activities. Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of school food service personnel, healthier, fresher, and often local food is now being consumed by children in school cafeterias every day.” Consumed by or being served to children in school cafeterias every day? That is the big question and the heart of this issue as I see it.
The UVM survey said there was improvement and this improvement would continue over time. The Harvard School of Public Health survey sited by Ms. Parisi, stated that “students were taking more fruit and actually eating more vegetables put on their tray.” Of course they are taking more fruit it is mandatory that they do. They are eating or trying more vegetables, which shows improvement, but there is still an issue with the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables being wasted. Ms. Parisi claims that the UVM survey was only conducted at two Vermont schools, but she doesn’t mention that the Harvard survey only included 2,200-3,000 students (about the same amount) and was also conducted in one state like the Vermont survey. What gives the Harvard survey more credibility in providing data reflecting a national trend in school food? Could it be the manner in which the actual data was presented by each survey? Surveys can and are made to say anything by manipulating the data or only asking certain questions. The fact is we have two surveys with inner related findings that indicate, that while consumption is increasing, there is still waste above what is deemed an acceptable or normal industry amount. Let’s fix the problem and stop looking for surveys to prove one side or the other’s point.
I am an advocate for child nutrition and the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act for the most part. I believe, and all surveys that I am familiar with and I have seen many studies that show, providing more choices of fresh fruits and vegetables, placing them strategically to facilitate making healthier choices, and educating students about good nutrition, in time will win the day. This point has been shown to be true by both the Harvard and the BEN studies mentioned by Ms. Parisi. Forcing students to take items they do not want results in waste. Do they take more of these items than before, when they weren’t forced to do so? Yes. Does this cause waste and increased plate cost? Yes. If students are trying the fresh vegetables we make them take, this is a step in the desired direction. Is waste still an issue resulting in excess food cost? Yes.
Instead of admitting that yes there are some areas of concern that need to be addressed, we deny the issues and vilify anyone seeking reform. We accuse them of trying to trash the entire program when all they are asking for is compromise on issues that are causing school programs financial and participation declines. “Members of Congress are just as guilty of not co-operating, posturing themselves between the budget and the needs of America’s children. Is the entire issue totally about party politics? Will there always be waste in the food industry? Yes. Is the level we are currently at in this program an acceptable level? No. Are students struggling to adapt to the new tastes and textures? Yes. Are nutrition education and more nutritious food choices necessary for our children’s future well-being? Yes. Why can’t we just work together to solve the problem. Is compromise dead in America? You tell me. An overwhelming amount of data indicates that the greatest strides toward good nutrition have been with younger children, who will grow up seeing no real differences and being more acceptable to the changes. In the end better health through making healthy food choices will be the norm.
I witness compromise produce a win-win situation every time I visit my daughter. She has two young sons, one readying for preschool the other readying to walk. The oldest eats anything that doesn’t out run him and the second, while a healthy eater has some reservations. My daughter believes in exposing her children to fresh, nutritious, healthy foods. The boys are both learning to make healthy food choices due to this exposure at home. They both do not always eat their fruits and vegetables at meal time. Rather than fight, my daughter uses fruits and vegetables as snacks. She doesn’t force them to take or eat what they don’t want and everybody gets what they need in the end. Compromise. The youngest son has an aversion to fresh steamed peas. If they are not presented to him with the texture he desires he spits them across the table. No matter how many times you put them in his mouth you get the same result. Does she keep shoveling them in and telling everyone at the table he really is eating them it just appears like he is not? No, she found another brand of peas he prefers over her homemade ones, just as nutritious, and now he eats them. Compromise. I have learned a great deal about how children respond to being forced to take something they don’t want to eat, by watching my grandsons. I see that forcing them results in waste. I also see that exposure to nutritious foods in the
home plays a major role in developing healthy eating habits in children, but that discussion is for another day.
I realize that my survey on child nutritional behaviors has a data set of only two and would not be credible to Ms. Parisi, but it seems to confirm the results found in the other surveys I have mentioned. I sometimes wonder how people lose their observation skills after they have raised their children. I also wonder if all of the child nutrition gurus’ force fed their children fresh fruits and vegetables. Did they tether them to a chair and stuff them with green leafy vegetables and exotic fruits, or did they expose them to nutritious food, educate them on making healthy choices, and hope for the best like the rest of us?
For the implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, I must say thank you Michelle Obama. This was a much needed change in this country. Are there flaws? Yes, but not so many it needs to be scrapped, just softened a bit to make it more palatable to all involved. I hope when Congress resumes sessions they fix the bugs and leave the basic principles alone. I don’t quite understand all of the fighting, posturing, and finger pointing that surrounds this issue. Make healthy choices more readily available and more student friendly, soften some policies to eliminate waste and increase participation, increase federal reimbursements to off-set increased food costs, and last, but certainly not least, consider what children want to eat instead of telling them what they must eat. Perhaps some compromise and Common Sense.
Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com.