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Living, your destination for ideas, inspiration and advice for you, your family and your home. 47 0 0 0 13 6. If everyone had a personal chef, we’d all eat better. And if every school had a chef overseeing its recipes and menus, then kids would eat better too, right? That’s the idea behind the latest study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
With 32 million children in the U. But could a chef really make a difference? The answer, as Juliana Cohen from the Harvard School of Public Health and her colleagues found out, is a resounding yes. To test each strategy, as well as the two methods together, Cohen went to 14 schools in low-income Massachusetts urban areas and watched what 2,638 students in 3rd grade through 8th grade put on their trays and ate during lunch for seven months.
Some schools were randomly assigned for the first three months to work with a chef to develop and modify recipes, some simply focused on the placement of healthy food, and some did both. When the researchers looked at the schools that used both the chefs and the smart café strategies, the results were more mixed. Interestingly, the combination did not significantly affect the chances that students would grab fruits, but it dramatically increased the odds that children would pick up vegetables, compared to schools without either intervention. Cohen, a research associate in the department of nutrition. Really it’s the impact of the chef that is driving the increase in consumption.
We also saw that chef schools also increased selection as well, so there is a double benefit in these schools. What the results highlight is that smart architecture and strategic placing of healthier foods in more prominent positions isn’t enough to get kids to eat them. But having a chef prepare school lunch does the trick. At the schools assigned to use a chef, the chefs tested new recipes and gave out samples for students to try, as well as encouraged them to try new things, presumably those containing more vegetables and fruits. And having the chefs there showed the kids that the school cared about them, and cared about what they were feeding them. Cohen doesn’t see hiring full time chefs as a realistic or practical option for most school districts, but does suggest having several districts pool their resources to share a chef for training and nutrition education. At the schools in the study, some saw cost savings because the chefs not only revamped menus but helped staff with inventory control and more efficient use of their supplies.
There won’t be a single easy fix to improving school lunches, and each school may need to find its own solution, but if Cohen’s study proves one thing, it’s that when it comes to getting kids to eat something — anything — taste is key. Even if it’s nutritious, if it tastes good too, students will eat it. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.