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New Research: Majority of Students Like New Healthier Lunches

This week, research was released from the first national studies to examine students’ reaction to healthier school meals after the U.S. Department of Agriculture improved nutrition standards through the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.

The research is encouraging because school leaders across the country report that students like the healthier lunches, and they aren’t reporting widespread challenges with kids buying or eating the meals. In addition, this research shows that for the most part, plate waste is no greater than before the updated standards went into place.

The researchers surveyed mostly principals and school food service providers and reported the following:

  • By spring 2013, respondents from 70% of elementary schools said students generally liked the healthier school lunches. Respondents from secondary schools said 70% of middle school students and 63% of high school students liked the healthier meals.
  • About half of respondents at elementary schools (56%), middle schools (44%), and high schools (53%) reported that students complained at first, but student acceptance greatly increased across all grade levels by spring 2013.
  • At elementary schools, respondents did not perceive much change in the amount of food students were discarding, but some increased plate waste was reported by middle and high schools. There was less plate waste in elementary and middle schools with a large proportion of students from lower-income families.
  • A significant majority of elementary school respondents (84%) said about the same number of students, or more, were purchasing lunch during the 2012-13 school year as did during the previous school year. Seventy-nine percent said elementary school students were consuming about the same amount or more of the lunch as they did the prior year.

This research reaffirms what we know; if we stick with the effort to improve school food, better food will become the norm and students will continue to adapt. Real change takes some time and effort, and we are seeing the results of the tremendous work of school chefs across the country. First Lady Michelle Obama is committed to ensuring we maintain the progress made to date through the updated nutrition standards.