New school lunch requirements, launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012, appear to be increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among students.
Researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health collected plate waste from 1,030 students in an urban, low-income school district before and after the new standards, according to a news release. The study was led by research fellow Juliana Cohen.
Following the new rules, fruit selection increased by 23 percent whereas entree and vegetable selection remain unchanged.
But consumption of vegetables increased by 16.2 percent and fruit consumption remain unchanged.
Because more fruit selected fruit after the rules, more fruit was consumed.
The researchers say their study shows that the new standards did not increase food waste, contradicting anecdotal reports from food service directors, teachers, parents and students.
But waste still is a problem as students discarded 60 percent to 75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruit on their trays.
This suggests that schools should focus on improving the quality and palatability to reduce waste, according to the news release.