Food Waste Up as Kids Toss Fruit and Vegetables in Garbage

Posted on August 26, 2015

School girl throws away an orange

The school lunch guidelines have really shaken things up in public schools over the past few years. While most people agree that it would be great if kids would eat healthier food at school, the implementation of the program has been fraught with difficulties for administrators and kids alike.

A new study that came out today in Public Health Reports sheds some light on whether or not forcing kids to take a fruit and vegetable in order to get lunch makes kids eats more fruits and vegetables. The answer from the study is an unequivocal no.

Scientists from the University of Vermont tracked what kids put on their trays and what was left on their trays when they returned the trays and threw away trash. The researches took digital photographs of each tray before and after lunch. The results were pretty disappointing, but not surprising to any parent of a picky eater. Every child picked out a fruit and vegetable when required to. But a shockingly large amount of fruits and vegetables went straight into the trash, uneaten. Food waste increased by a whopping 56%. The study was small, but thorough. A prior study by researchers from Cornell and Brigham Young found that 70% of the mandated fruits and vegetables were thrown away, untouched.

Researcher photographing cafeteria tray of food for study


Kids who liked vegetables and fruits continued to eat vegetables and fruits. Children who didn't want to eat fruits and vegetables, but who were forced to take them, simply threw them away. In fact, a great deal more food was thrown away as a result of the implementation of the new guidelines. Lead researcher Sarah A. Amin, MPH, found the results of the study "heartbreaking" and suggested that the fruits and vegetables be presented in a more appealing way, such as offering orange or apple slices instead a whole piece of fruit. That's a good suggestion: what 4th grader is going to peel an orange at lunchtime? Most of them just want to speed through lunch and get out the door to recess.

Another problem with the new "healthier" lunches is the taste. The San Diego Union Tribune reports on the growing black market for condiments in schools. John S. Payne, president of the Blackford County School Board of Trustees of Hartford City, Indiana, informed the newspaper that students were selling salt, pepper and sugar on the black market to liven up dreary, dull lunch foods, which is mind-boggling.

Is it really so surprising that the majority of kids have zero interest in eating dry broccoli at lunch when they used to get pizza or tacos or french fries? You can find the whole report in pdf format here. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will be voted on next month by Congress, which will decide if it will be renewed or not.

Photos: Sally McCay/University of Vermont