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Eat your veggies, kids

Texas school children don’t have sufficiently healthy diets. I know, I can’t believe it, either.

Only 8 percent of Texas teens are eating enough fruits and vegetables, a new report finds, despite efforts to stock school cafeterias with healthier foods.

Nine out of 10 American high schoolers are short on fruits and veggies, which is only a slightly better rate than their Texas counterparts, according to a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The recommended daily minimum is more than two cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit.

The findings come from a 2007 national survey of about 14,000 high school students. The report’s results were culled from six questions involving whether students drank fruit juices, ate fruit or green salad, carrots or other vegetables in the prior week.

The true percentage of teens eating enough fruits and vegetables may be even lower than the survey found, said Houston child nutrition researcher Tom Baranowski.

“The fact that it’s not assessing all components of fruits and vegetables may mean it’s overestimating,” said Baranowski, a pediatrics professor at Baylor College of Medicine who works for the Children’s Nutrition Research Center.


In 2004, then-Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs set a public school nutrition policy that restricted fried and fatty foods but required more healthful offerings including daily fruits and veggies. This year’s updates to the law required schools to eliminate deep-fat frying as of Aug. 1 and restrict candy sales to after school.

Still, teens have more opportunities to eat what they want, which is why the survey results don’t surprise Sonya Kaster, a registered dietician and school nutrition specialist. She also consults at The Oliver Foundation, which aims to prevent childhood obesity.

“They are more in control of what they are eating than younger children,” Kaster said of today’s teenagers.

That’s why the Houston-based foundation focuses most of its efforts on elementary students, instead of trying to persuade older kids to break unhealthy habits.

Good luck with that, because speaking from my own experience, that control is more illusory and shorter-lasting than you might think. Audrey still eats everything I send to school with her, but Olivia is much more likely to simply not eat portions of her lunch, as she knows that she’ll be getting snacks later in the day both at kindergarten from a rotating schedule of class parents, and also at after-school care. On the plus side, she’s become a fan of the school lunches, which do include fruits and vegetables, so we let her buy them a couple days a week. Not perfect, and I don’t think she eats as well now as she did in preschool when we had essentially full control over her choices, but it’ll have to do.

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