“Kids don’t like healthy food.” That’s the sage wisdom coming out of Congress right now as our representatives consider a measure to delay or stop schools from adopting the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act standards for nutritious lunches. Groups like the “School Nutrition Association” claim, incorrectly, that students throw away more food from healthier meals, which taxes overall school budgets. This is a huge setback for school health leaders who fought to require schools across the United States to align their meals with basic dietary guidelines.
Last week, Bridging the Gap, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation research initiative, published new findings in the journal Childhood Obesity demonstrating that on the whole, schools and their students are happy with the new nutrition standards. Bridging the Gap found that students are skeptical at first, but after six months the complaints disappear and students waste no more food than they otherwise would (now if only we could get them to stop wasting any food).
Bridging the Gap’s findings make sense. Research demonstrates that children, like adults, are a bunch of neophobes! We are all scared to try new things. But once the students see the same healthy options day after day, they eventually accept—and even like—the new foods.
In Chicago, we at Pilot Light have seen this process in action. We bring new foods into the classroom and integrate them into everyday lessons. Students learn where the foods come from, why they are healthy, and they have a chance to touch, taste, and smell the good stuff. As you can see from our award-aspiring photojournalism, students’ initial reaction is, believe it or not, less than enthusiastic. But we hear from countless students and parents that the Pilot Light experience encourages students to go home, ask about the foods they tried with Pilot Light, and try them again and again.
So, Congress, let’s give healthy meals a chance. Don’t stop the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act!