Kids Aren't Lovin' the Veggie Trays at Chicago Schools

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, In The News

lunch line veggie trays apple slices

Chicago schools are hoping kids will load up on apple slices. Credit: Jim Mone, AP file photo

You can lead a horse to water -- or, in this case, kids to trays of peas and carrots -- but you can't make them eat.

Chicago school administrators, hoping to get students to line up in cafeterias begging for broccoli and Greek yogurt, didn't exactly get the "He likes it!" cheers they were hoping for when they stopped serving nachos and donuts and introduced healthy options for breakfast and lunch.

In fact, the word du jour heard in school dining halls was "nasty," the Chicago Tribune reports.

The proof is in the tofu pudding: Chicago Public School district lunch sales have dropped 5 percent, down 20,000 lunches a day from September through December of 2010, the Tribune reports.

Students tell Tribune reporters they are throwing away their lunches, opting for cookies and slushies from the canteen, or waiting to eat until they get home.

"If they're going to feed us healthy, they need to feed us something good that's healthy," Mijoy Roussell, a sixth-grader at Claremont Academy who was skipping school lunch in favor of a packet of candy, tells the Tribune. "This food is disgusting, which is why I'm not eating lunch."

This year, CPS and its caterer banned Pop-Tarts, donuts and nachos for menus with more whole grain products, vegetables and less sodium, exceeding the U.S. Department of Agriculture meal standards, the newspaper reports.

But it's not just taking the salt away that's keeping kids from embracing healthier foods, Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University who specializes in eating behavior, tells the Tribune.

He says abrupt changes to kids' meals often cause a negative reaction, and his Smarter Lunchrooms research project has developed several strategies to help students make better choices through psychology and marketing.

Location, location, location is key, Wansink says in a Cornell press release. When apples were moved in a school lunchroom from a metal bin to an attractive basket lit by an ordinary desk lamp -- and closer to the cash register and away from more tempting, less-healthy chips and other packaged snacks -- their sales jumped 58 percent, he notes.

"The best solution is often the simplest one," Wansink says in the release. "Rather than penalizing a less healthy food choice, we just made the healthier item much more likely to be noticed and chosen."

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