Maybe getting schoolchildren to eat healthy foods isn't a hopeless struggle. Bucking some common notions, a University of Minnesota study has found that school lunch sales don't decline when healthier meals are served, and that more nutritious lunches don't necessarily cost schools more to produce.
"The conventional wisdom that you can't serve healthier meals because kids won't eat them is false," said Benjamin Senauer, one of three economists who wrote the study.
Previous studies have concluded that students prefer fatty foods and that healthier meals cost more to make, the authors noted.
The study, which appears in the December issue of the Review of Agricultural Economics, analyzed five years of data for 330 Minnesota public school districts. It looked at compliance with federal standards for calories, nutrients and fats.
When the researchers crunched all the numbers they found that schools serving the healthiest lunches did not see a falloff in demand.
While serving better meals does entail higher labor costs, the study found, that's offset by lower costs for more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables compared with processed foods. However, many districts need to upgrade their kitchens and train their staff to prepare these foods, the researchers said.
The study's conclusions rang true for Jean Ronnei, director of nutrition services for St. Paul Public Schools, which serves more than 46,000 meals daily. The district was held up by the authors as a model for others.
Full report: Study: Kids Will Eat Healthy School Food