Cornell nutrition report cards show students eat healthier when their parents are watching

Jan. 21, 2014, Poughkeepsie Journal

Researchers at Cornell University have found a low-cost way to convince students to pass up cookies and desserts at lunchtime and select fruits and veggies instead: Letting them know that their parents are watching.

A pilot study for nutrition report cards was conducted two years ago in Waverly Central School District. Parents who signed up to participate were emailed the weekly report cards that listed the foods their children were selecting à la carte during lunch. The students’ choices were tracked electronically through modified cash registers.

Despite being called report cards, the students were not awarded actual grades. But simply knowing their parents were monitoring their habits was enough to get students to pick fewer sweets and flavored milk and opt for vegetables and fruits more frequently. Cookie consumption alone dropped from 14.3 percent to 6.5 percent. Continue reading

First-ever census reveals growing popularity of Farm to School program

Oct. 22, 2013, The Washington Post

By Tim Carman

More than 40 percent of the U.S. public school districts that responded to a historic census said they were participating in a program that helps bring fresh, local produce to school cafeterias. The percentage of participating schools was even higher in Maryland, Virginia, and the District, where the program has taken deep root.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) first-ever census of school districts across the country revealed how popular the national Farm to School program has become in recent years: About 43 percent of U.S. school districts — or about 38,600 schools — bought local produce for their students during the 2011-2012 school year, investing more than $354 million in farms near their communities. Another 13 percent said they would be participating in the program “in the near future.” Continue reading

Improving school lunch by design

Oct. 16, 2013, The New York Times

By Courtney E. Martin

What if the secret to getting kids to eat healthier is to stop focusing on food?

In spring 2013, the San Francisco Unified School District (S.F.U.S.D.) began a five-month collaboration with the design firm IDEO to re-imagine the school food system. This effort might not sound unique. Childhood obesity has become a hot topic, in large part thanks to the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, and projects by high-profile chefs like Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters have aimed at getting fresh, healthy foods in schools.

In this case, however, the adults aren’t as concerned with what students are eating as they are with how they are eating.

“When adults dine, we don’t just think about the food,” explained Orla O’Keeffe, the executive director of policy and operations. “The food is important, but so is what’s going on around it: the ambience, the service, the company. Why would we assume kids are any different?” Continue reading

Cafeteria debit cards tied to unhealthy school lunches: Why paying with plastic could be hurting kids

Oct. 11, 2013, Medical Daily

By Chris Weller

Dropping a handful of quarters into the waiting palm of a lunch lady is quickly getting replaced by rapid, blurry swipes of a debit card, and the proliferation in cafeterias around the country has two researchers pushing for greater monitoring of children’s unhealthy spending habits.

Cornell University behavioral economists David Just and Brian Wansink recently investigated the school lunch choices of 2,314 children around the United States. The team compared calorie counts in meals purchased in schools that were debit-only to those that accepted both cash and debit cards. Meals purchased in debit-only schools not only had more calories than in other schools, but also contained a greater number of calories from high-fat, high-sugar foods.

“There may be a reason for concern about the popularity of cashless systems,” the researchers said in a university press release. “Debit cards have been shown to induce more frivolous purchases or greater overall spending by adults and college students.” Continue reading

USDA: Small number of schools drop out of federal lunch program due to healthier requirements

Sept. 29, 2013, Daily Reporter

By Mary Clare Jalonick

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says 524 schools — out of about 100,000 — have dropped out of the federally subsidized national school lunch program since the government introduced new standards for healthier foods last year.

The new standards have been met with grumbling from school nutrition officials who say they are difficult and expensive to follow, conservatives who say the government shouldn’t be dictating what kids eat and — unsurprisingly — from some children who say the less-greasy food doesn’t taste as good. But USDA says the vast majority of schools are serving healthier food, with some success.

Data the department is planning to release Sept. 30 shows that 80 percent of schools say they have already met the requirements, which went into place at the beginning of the 2012 school year. About a half dropped out of the program. Continue reading

School meals face rules on fat, meat, veggies – but no limits on sugar

Oct. 2, 2013, NBC Bay Area

By Eleanor Yang Su

Almost everything about a school cafeteria meal has a regulation. The federal government caps the amount of fat and salt in breakfasts and lunches. It sets minimum standards for servings of fruit, vegetables, grains, milk, and meat.

But one widely used and often-overused product has no official limits: sugar.

As Congress faces increased scrutiny over subsidies to the sugar industry, nutritionists and anti-obesity crusaders are focusing on the amount of sugar in school meals – and asking whether regulations governing school lunches deliberately exclude limits on sugar to favor a powerful industry.

Recent research shows that sugar levels in school meals are more than double what is recommended for the general public. Elementary school lunch menus contain 115 percent of the recommended daily calories from added sugars and fats, according to a November study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service. Middle school and high school lunch menus also are sugar- and fat-heavy, averaging between 59 and 74 percent of the recommended amounts. Continue reading

School cafeterias, vending machines trading sugar, fat for more healthful fare

Sept. 27, 2013, The Washington Post

By Lenny Bernstein

Any parent who has fixed a nutritious school lunch only to find it untouched in a backpack the next morning will be heartened by new federal rules that will take effect in schools nationwide in the fall of 2014. That’s when laws will require school vending machines, stores and “a la carte” lunch menus to provide only healthful foods. So if a child hits the cafeteria line for pizza, the cheese on that slice will be relatively low in fat and sodium and the crust probably will be made from whole grains. And snackers will find nuts, granola bars, and water in vending machines instead of candy bars, potato chips, and sugary sodas. A 2001 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that children in the school breakfast program, many of whom eat school-provided lunches, consume as much as half their calories each day at school. A 2009 study showed that sugar-sweetened beverages add 112 calories to the average elementary school student’s daily diet. Continue reading

Study: Giving a boring food a cool name helps children make healthier meal choices

Sept. 14, 2013, Star Gazette

By Bob Jamieson

Cornell University experts have found ways to get America’s school kids to eat healthier school lunches.

They say their techniques are low cost, even no cost, and nudge students to more nutritious offerings by manipulating the lunchroom environment.

“A lot of our work is experimental. We will actually go out in the field and run experiments in schools to see what will happen,” said David Just, associate professor and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. Continue reading

NYC school lunch menus serve up healthy eats

Sept. 5, 2013, Times Ledger

By Kevin Zimmerman

When New York City children shuffle into the cafeteria on Sept. 9 most probably won’t notice any changes at that first back-to-school lunch until they roll their trays up to the cash register.

For kids who pay for the mid-day meal, the price jumps up a quarter. But those children who qualify for reduced-cost meals will see their tabs fall from 25 cents to nothing.

“Two things are happening,” said Eric Goldstein, CEO of School Support Services. “We used to have paid, reduced and free lunches. Now we’ll just have paid and free. And for kids who pay, the cost is going from $1.50 to $1.75.” Continue reading

Fast food: Students struggle with healthy options in short lunch periods

Aug. 28, 2013, NBC Bay Area

By Joanna Lin

The green beans are portioned and displayed in orderly rows. The lasagnas are steaming up their plastic covers. The workers stand ready, their hair netted and aprons tied. The bell rings, and a stream of nearly 1,000 students flood in to Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School’s cafeteria, barely slowing as they load cardboard trays with apple juice, chicken wings, and sliced cucumbers.

Because lunch is free for all students at Bravo, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, no one pauses to pay. Still, during the lunch rush this day in May, food service worker Rodelinda Gomez stops a few.

“Hey! Hey!” Gomez hollers to students with no greens on their trays. “Come on and get your vegetables. You have to get them!” Continue reading