Students were not instant fans of the new school lunch menus introduced in 2012, with some not just pushing their trays away, but throwing unwanted food in the garbage.
But after a semester or so, students began to like the food, at least to some extent, according to two studies published last year.
Researchers from the University of Illinois looked into how students reacted after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced the new National School Lunch Program (NSLP) standards in 2012.
The new standards required that half of the grains served in schools during the 2012 – 2013 school year should be whole grains. After this transition period, schools should be serving solely whole grain products starting fall 2013.
Schools also needed to offer a fruit and a vegetable daily, limit milk options to either nonfat or low fat (1 percent) and ban all food with trans fats.
They asked school administrators and food service workers in elementary, middle and high schools about the number of complaints they’ve heard and how much food students wasted.
Most of the respondents said many students complained in the fall of 2012, but far fewer complaints were heard by the time spring rolled around.
Middle and high school officials also reported that their students were throwing away more food than the previous year, before the standards came into effect.
But in areas where a large chunk of elementary and middle school students get free or reduced lunch, respondents said less food ended up in the dumpster.
Officials in rural schools also seem to be dealing with more complaints and food waste than their urban or suburban counterparts. They were also more likely to report fewer students buying lunch.
In Clarke County, school nutrition coordinator Hillary Savage said she did not recall students complaining about the food or notice an increase in wasted food when the new standards were implemented.
“Clarke County had been proactive about adopting changes… well in advance of the federally mandated changes,” Savage said. “This allowed students to become familiar with these items gradually over several years rather than overnight.”
Savage says they try to spotlight at least one item a week and offer a variety of food, so at least something along the lunch line appeals to students.
She said no one wins if the food doesn’t get eaten.
Students and teachers lose because students won’t have energy for class. If food gets wasted, Savage and her team also lose.
“We want our hard work to go to the tummy, not the trash can.”