Taste Testing at High School Increased Selection of Local Sweet Potatoes says JCN&M Study


The following is the seventh in a series of news stories examining each of the JCN&M papers in the Spring 2017 Issue.

This year, Americans will set yet another new record for obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 12.7 million children and adolescents in the U.S. are currently overweight and those numbers are continuing to grow.

To help combat this, the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 called for school meals to provide more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Yet, even with schools offering more nutritious foods, recent studies have estimated that only 5%-to 6% of adolescents meet the USDA recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake – with more than half of the vegetables eaten are either fried potatoes or tomato puree. Knowing that fruit and vegetable consumption is low among the adolescent population, many school nutrition professionals are looking for answers on how to increase selection and consumption.

The Farm-to-School initiative is relatively new to the school lunch scene and is being examined as a possible way to increase selection of fruits and vegetables among school aged children. However, there has been little research on the effectiveness of product trials and sampling among high school students to increase selection of a local vegetable.

In a new study in the Practical Solutions section of the latest issue of SNA’s The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, a paper by Kelly Bristow, RD, LD; Steven Jenkins, MA; Patrick Kelly, PhD; Mildred Mattfeldt-Beman, PhD, RD, LD, was initiated to test whether something as simple as a tasting could increase selection of local sweet potatoes when offered on a school lunch menu. Practical Solutions papers in this issue of JCN&M describe techniques that can be used to improve school nutrition operations.

Does Tasting Local Sweet Potatoes Increase the Likelihood of Selection by High School Students? found that offering students free samples of locally grown sweet potatoes significantly increased selection by students when they were later made available on the school lunch menu.

The school district used in this study was in the development stage of their Farm-to-School efforts. Previous cafeteria records showed that when sweet potatoes were on the menu, very few servings were taken from the lunch line since students could choose the fruit offered that day and were not required to take the vegetable. The authors of this study believe the results of this effort show the positive impact a simple taste tasting can have on a local vegetable selection made at the high school level.

In addition to increasing selection of locally grown produce (in this case, sweet potatoes), the authors suggest that that there are many more benefits of a Farm-to-School program.

Census data researched by the authors indicate that schools utilizing the Farm-to-School program purchased nearly $790 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers in the 2013-2014 school year; a 105% increase over 2011-2012. Recent studies state that direct sales from Farm-to-School programs represented up to 5% of a farmer’s income when that farmer sells to schools. As a result of this, farmers say they made valuable connections with parents, teachers, and community members, which could lead to more sales outside of the school.

For school nutrition professionals, the authors propose a Farm-to-School program can mean a variety of things. It could mean purchasing local produce to be used on the school menu, which strengthens the local economy, provides a good price for produce for a program already tight budget and an opportunity to teach students where their food comes from. Or, it could also mean partnering with various individuals and students to grow food in a school garden that in turn will be ultimately be placed on a school menu.

Whichever meaning, the authors conclude that simply exposing students to a local vegetable through a tasting in an urban school district did increase selection.

About The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management:
The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management (JCN&M) is the exclusive source for research findings in this profession, and it features a variety of studies in the following four categories: Research in Action, Current Issues, Practical Solutions and FNS Research Corner. Published twice a year, this peer-reviewed research journal is available free of charge, online only. Read the current issue today.

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