November 18/Boston/PRNewswire-USNewswire -- A preliminary report of the Chefs in Schools Initiative by the Harvard School of Public Health, funded by Project Bread, proves that kids not only like healthy school meals, but actually eat more of the healthy foods than they would if they were eating a traditional school meal.
The study sought to analyze the value of the Chefs in Schools Initiative, which was launched by Project Bread in 2007 with the help of the Office of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Public Health Commission. The concept behind the Initiative was simple: over 74% of the nearly 56,000 Boston public school children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, which include breakfast and lunch. Clearly, many of these children come from families that struggle to put food on the table, making these children especially vulnerable to hunger and under-nutrition. The Initiative sought to make cutting-edge nutrition available to these children as an ordinary part of their school day.
To accomplish this, the partnership hired Chef Kirk Conrad, a master chef and graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, to work with the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School in Dorchester and the Mario Umana Middle School in East Boston. Chef Kirk, as Conrad is known by all, was charged with serving healthy, cost-effective meals that kids love to eat and creating an environment that signaled to kids, their teachers, and parents that school meals were crucial to their overall health and learning. Chef Kirk's menus feature fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats -- and remove excess fat, sodium and sugar. These healthy meals are cooked from scratch, using fresh ingredients and herbs to enhance taste, by Conrad, who has also trained a willing kitchen staff in his techniques, who regularly test the palatability of new dishes with their students as they would guests in a restaurant.
As the final step in the rollout of the Initiative, the Healthy Lunch Study analyzed the results of this innovative program. The study compared Boston middle schools receiving the district's traditional school lunch with the middle schools participating in the Chefs in Schools Initiative who received the healthy lunch. Results were collected from 3,188 trays and researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health stated their preliminary findings as significant:
Over three times as many students ate the vegetables at the Chefs schools as compared with the control schools. Among students who ate vegetables, students at the Chefs schools ate on average about 30% more of their vegetables. When only 1% white milk was served instead of chocolate milk, students still drank the same amount of milk. Meals had over 50% more whole grains at the Chefs schools compared with the control schools. Food waste was significantly reduced in Chefs schools. The study revealed that while 1/3 of the food from traditional lunches was thrown out uneaten in the control schools, only 1/5 of the food was uneaten in the Chefs schools.Participation in the school lunch program was 17% higher in the Chefs schools, meaning that more students ate lunch that was federally reimbursed.
Preliminary findings of the Healthy Lunch Study concludes that serving flavorful, appealing school meals can improve student nutrition while increasing school lunch participation -- a factor that's also important both for cash-strapped school districts. The program has been so successful that the Chefs in Schools Initiative is expanding into eight Boston Public Schools -- including a high school where graduates from the Lilla Frederick and the Umana Academy organized to demand better food.
"It's rewarding to see the benefits of the Chefs in Schools program in action," said Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread. "This Initiative is a unique opportunity to provide low-income children with cutting-edge nutrition that helps them succeed in the classroom while learning healthful lifelong eating habits."
From the November 23, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition