January 23, 2007
You don't want fries with that?

Given a choice, kids will eat healthy foods. Who knew?

The cafeteria lunch line at Columbus Elementary School moves quickly as students grab portions of carrots, celery, apples and oranges. French fries and hamburgers, once cafeteria staples, aren't even offered.

"I eat carrots or apples every day," said 10-year-old Alan Espino. He said he didn't notice that the bun holding his all-beef hot dog was whole wheat. Even the pizza available in the cafeteria has whole wheat crust.

The school cafeteria looks radically different from those of his parents' generation, and it appears many kids aren't turning their noses up at the new offerings. In fact, according to a survey of food service directors, french fries are decreasing in popularity and interest in carrots is skyrocketing.

As choices on the lunch line change, many children are accepting them, said Martha Conklin, an associate professor at Penn State University who conducts research about school nutrition programs and school food service.

"If you present these healthy offerings to children, they may turn them down the first time, but you can't give up," she said. "Children will adapt. Choice is important, but they can make those selections from healthy offerings."

It probably helps if the kids have been accustomed to eating healthy foods at home, but given the constant drumbeat about childhood obesity over the past few years, you have to figure that that message was starting to sink in. Regardless, I consider this to be good news.

On the other hand, as noted in the story sidebar:

[Texas] was set to phase in rules that include no sports drinks in elementary schools next year and no deep frying or sodas in any schools by 2009. But Todd Staples, the new state agriculture commissioner, is putting those changes under review.

Perhaps this is just a perfunctory, due-diligence kind of thing. Perhaps he intends to speed things up, or to expand the scope of the rule changes. And perhaps he intends to do something stupid. Whatever the case, this bears watching.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 23, 2007 to Food, glorious food

My daughter's elementary in China Spring (Waco suburb) does pretty much the same thing. They have a salad bar that is pretty popular with the kids. My daughter usually hits the salad bar instead of the regular fare. When I go visit I notice the kids like their salads "sorted". Little piles of different veggies completely separate with a little bowl of ranch dressing for dipping. And not a tater tot in sight. I'm all in favor of it for sure.

They other thing they are doing in my daughter's school is have the kids bring water and a healthy snack for mid-morning. They never did that when I was in elementary school in the 70s. But every morning I pack her a water bottle and some apple slices or something for the mid-morning snack to keep the kids going.

Posted by: Kent from Waco on January 23, 2007 8:50 AM

You ought to check out the Recipie for Success foundation, which has done some good work on educating HISD students that eating healthy is both easy and fun.

They've brought in local gourmet chefs to area schools and are teaching kids how to cook nutritious (and delicious) meals.

Posted by: Justin Hamilton on January 25, 2007 6:24 AM