Chef: An all Important Ingredient in Your Children’s Veggies’ Menu

With the sprouting of all these wide variety of ready-to-eat stuffs present everywhere, specifically in fast foods and restaurants, delicious, but deprived of their nutritional value, yet, kids love eating them.  Isn’t it good to hear that there is one exceptional way of persuading these little creatures to eat healthy foods like fruits and veggies, instead, by letting chefs do the wonder? This is good news to all school boards and lunch ladies who offer menus during school lunches.

This fact came about as a result of an experiment that was designed merely to evaluate the relative contributions of these two contributory elements of vital importance — taste and choice — to make better of school children’s lunchtime nutritional preferences. Researchers found out that both are necessary and that they should go together for a better result.

First Lady Michelle Obama, extended a helping hand and made an effort to help fight obesity in children, so she launched the Chefs Move to Schools’ program in 2010, and set out the latest study to prove its effectivity and ultimately make a difference.  The study was published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

The study showed that when children are given freedom or freewill to make decisions on their own in the school lunch line, they do respond well to choice. So offering them a variety of options for fruits and vegetables — and presenting the healthiest options in attractive ways — prompts these vicious customers to pick them more often.

But getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and to not just pick them for “heaven’s sake,” is actually a different story, so, this is where a chef’s expertise should come in. This is according to the researchers findings. Presenting the chef’s offerings in an attractive way worked far better than just dressing up traditional school-lunch fare with more options and better presentation.

The study: Researchers chose picky eaters; these are students from 14 primary and middle schools in two urban, low-income school districts in Massachusetts; they did not respond to the changes thereafter. For three long months the chefs did their task of visiting schools, tweaking menus and offering food preparation techniques to cafeteria workers. The result: Students did prefer to put more vegetables on their trays but they were not actually eating them.

Furthermore, at the fourth month, participating schools were divided into two groups. In the first group, they were offered fresh fruit, unsweetened nonfat milk and other healthful options that were distinguishably placed in attractive bowls and highly praised in promotional posters. While in the other group, foods were displayed in a conventional cafeteria fashion, with healthful and less healthful options to choose from, and were equally billed.

Researchers found out that when these children were offered a variety of fruit and vegetable, tastier too, and backed by good PR and presentation, kids don’t just choose them more often, they ate them too. The researchers were able to tell because they carefully measured what the school children chose in line and what they threw away at the end of the lunch period.

The study also showed that, at these schools, 78% of their students chose a fruit offering and 76% chose a vegetable. On average, these children ate 59% of the fruits and 53% of the vegetables they have chosen.

While at the schools where things were done the way they used to, only half of their students put fruit on their trays and one-third chose a vegetable. Those kids ate, on average, 67% of those fruits and 30% of those vegetables, the researchers found.

The researchers wrote that, “after a long-term exposure to the enhanced meals, and with the chef’s intervention … these children showed a significant increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables they consumed.

In a conclusion, the experts expressed that, the explanation for this turnabout kept coming back to the chef and his or her expertise. “This was likely because of the increased palatability of the foods, an increase in the variety of fresh fruit options, and the weekly presence of a professional chef in the lunchroom.”

The authors of the study emphasized the importance of time and patience in improving the choices children make, and they reminded parents — who might  already have the knowledge on this — that only with “repeated exposure to new school foods” will children open up to them.



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