Goodbye Junk Food? School Study Finds Teaching Good Nutrition Can Change Kids' Food Choices

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, News, In The News, Weird But True, Mealtime, Behavior: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Behavior: Tweens, Research Reveals: Tweens, New In Pop Culture

Children cooking healthy food

Not every bite-size, crunchy snack is loaded with fat and calories. Credit: Getty Images


Who knew if you offered a kid broccoli and apple sticks, they'd grow to prefer them over Pop-Tarts and mac and cheese?

A group of researchers at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., say schools can break out of their lunchtime ruts by offering students time in the garden, the kitchen and the lunchroom cafeteria.

This newly revealed road map for school cafeteria nutrition is the result of an experiment to teach a generation reared on junk food about eating healthy, where their food comes from and the environment, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

For the last three years, science classes at Berkeley grade schools have been taught weekly in school gardens. English, history and math courses are held regularly in the kitchen, and processed food is gone from school cafeterias.

Everything is made from scratch.

Now, the results are in. The UC Berkeley study, "Changing Students' Knowledge, Attitudes and Behavior About Food," shows that a radical program where kids garden, cook and learn about nutrition, really does work. The kids have better eating habits than their peers.

The university researchers conducted their study in the Berkeley Unified School District and it was commissioned by famous chef Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation. The report, scheduled to be released next week by the university's Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health, is one of the first to look at bringing grade school-aged students up close in the garden and kitchen to be inspired to eat healthier, the Chronicle reports.

"Ideally, this could be used to influence public policy," Neil Smith, Berkeley's assistant superintendent tells the newspaper.

Researchers followed the eating patterns of 238 Berkeley fourth and fifth graders. They wanted to know if the comprehensive nutrition program would turn finicky junk food eaters into kids who are thoughtful about their food choices. The researchers compared the students enrolled in Berkeley grade schools -- one group participating in a highly developed food programs (cooking and garden classes, improved cafeteria lunches and nicer dining facilities -- with other students in the district's schools that don't have such an extensive curriculum.

The study found that the students in the more advanced programs increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 1.5 servings a day, while the other students decreased their intake by nearly a quarter serving.

The first group also scored higher on nutrition tests and actually requested "more leafy greens, such as chard, spinach and kale, with their meals," Suzanne Rauzon, the study's research project director, tells the Chronicle. "Typically, kids that age couldn't even identify those vegetables, let alone list them among their favorites," she says.

Sixty percent of the parents of students enrolled in the food curriculum said it changed their child's knowledge about healthful food choices, compared to 36 percent in the other program, according to the newspaper.

Now, the results are in. The UC Berkeley three-year study, "Changing Students' Knowledge, Attitudes and Behavior About Food," shows that a radical program where kids garden, cook and learn about nutrition, really does work. The kids have better eating habits than their peers.

The university researchers conducted their research in the Berkeley Unified School District and the study was commissioned by famous chef Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation. The report, scheduled to be released next week by the university's Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health, is one of the first to look at bringing grade school-aged students up close in the garden and kitchen to be inspired to eat healthier, the Chronicle reports.

"Ideally, this could be used to influence public policy," Neil Smith, Berkeley's assistant superintendent tells the newspaper.

Researchers followed the eating patterns of 238 Berkeley fourth- and fifth-graders. They wanted to know if the comprehensive nutrition program would turn finicky junk food eaters into kids who are thoughtful about their food choices. The researchers compared the students enrolled in Berkeley grade schools -- one group participating in a highly developed food programs (cooking and garden classes, improved cafeteria lunches and nicer dining facilities) -- with other students in the district's schools that don't have such an extensive curriculum.

The study found that the students in the more advanced programs increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 1.5 servings a day, while the other students decreased their intake by nearly a quarter serving.

The first group also scored higher on nutrition tests and actually requested "more leafy greens, such as chard, spinach and kale, with their meals," Suzanne Rauzon, the study's research project director, tells the Chronicle. "Typically, kids that age couldn't even identify those vegetables, let alone list them among their favorites," she says.

Sixty percent of the parents of students enrolled in the food curriculum said it changed their child's knowledge about healthful food choices, compared to 36 percent in the other program, according to the newspaper.

Related: McDonald's, Wendy's Kids Meals Top Physician Group's Least Wanted List

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.