Half of CA Students and Third of Parents Love New Lunch Menu

Although there have been isolated incidents of protesting students, California kids who attend public schools seem to be fans of, or at least accept, new healthier lunches. A survey released by The California Endowment finds that children believe that the new lunches are better than the ones they’ve been served in the past by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1.

The survey provides insight into how children are reacting to the changes brought about by the implementation of the Hunger-Free Kids Act. Although the healthier lunch provisions inserted into the act have been praised by nutritionists and childhood development experts, many remained doubtful that its main audience – the kids themselves – would take to the new food options. Lunches served in schools this year had to meet a slate of new requirements such as increasing the proportion of fruits and vegetables, using low-fat and non-fat milk, limiting total calories and adding more whole-grain options.

Nutrition experts from the Institute of Medicine and the United States Department of Agriculture developed the new guidelines, which advocates say will not only lead to healthier kids, but happier and higher performing students at public schools across the nation.

“If today’s students eat better and live healthier, we all benefit over the long run, in lower obesity and diabetes rates, reduced health care costs, and improved academic performance,” said Judi Larsen of The California Endowment.

The survey, conducted earlier this month, asked 509 students and 600 parents of students enrolled in K-12 public schools around the state about their thoughts on the new meals. Of the kids who answered the question, 50% thought that this year’s lunches were an improvement over the ones served last year, while 15% thought the quality of the meals had gone down. Roughly 35% detected no difference.

The answers from parents were more evenly split. Thirty-seven percent preferred the lunches served this year, while 20% expressed preference for last year’s meals. About 28% percent thought the quality was unchanged from last year.

As for the new federal nutrition standards, 82 percent of the students said they support retaining the changes, while parents approved of keeping the new guidelines at an even higher rate — 91 percent expressed support. Those responses were collected after survey respondents were read a short description of the new guidelines.

However, overall awareness of the new federal nutrition standards was low among parents in general. Only 36 percent of parents surveyed were aware of the new school meals policy, compared to 73 percent of students.