Under the new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for school lunches, pushed forth by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, schools are now required to offer students at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at every meal. Just before the release of the new regulations, critics suspected the USDA would find another loophole to shortchange the public yet again. An infamous example would be the decision to count tomato sauce on pizza as a serving of vegetables. Well the loophole was found, but the USDA is innocent. It appears that this time, the culprits are the children themselves.
Children around the country may just be chucking away those fruits and vegetables that they’re being forced to take, as pointed out by one student at West Side High School in New York City. A memorable quote reads: “If you lead a man [or in this case, child] who hates music to a concert, he will fidget from boredom and irritation, and the kindness you showed in taking him there won’t make him feel any better.”
The actions taken by Omaha High School, or Westside High School (which is debating the idea of composting the leftovers) may just be avoiding the issue. While the USDA should rightly so be focusing more energy on fixing the root of the problem, parents and schools should likewise make an effort to teach children to appreciate all food, not just fruits and vegetables.
A child’s image of the world is shaped from a very early age. In a time of an obesity epidemic, a food-hungry culture, of farmers markets, schools gardens and nutrition education in/out of schools, we might be forgetting to teach children basic boundaries. While school-based programs push big ideas of food-systems, farmers, and the like, many of these lessons end up in the trash if children are not taught to be thankful for their food.
In a small, community setting, a child may be stopped and made an example if he/she were found wasting food. A few feasible and contemporary ideas to reduce plate waste have recently surfaced: scheduling lunch after recess, reducing competitive snack foods, and offering more preferable food preparations. But before we replace apples with apple sauce, or reignite “the empty plate club,” lets think win-win. Some schools have turned to donating fruits that students are refusing, which is a start. But how can parents help in reducing their child’s egocentric outlook of food?