Kids will eat more fruits and veggies and less fat and cholesterol if they have a salad bar to choose from at lunchtime, California researchers have shown.
Children in three Los Angeles elementary schools went from eating fruits and vegetables about three times a day, on average, before the salad bar was introduced, to four times a day afterwards, Dr Wendelin M. Slusser of the University of California, Los Angeles and her colleagues found.
The children also ate about 200 fewer calories a day once the salad bar had been made available to them.
The findings are particularly relevant given efforts underway to overhaul the Farm Bill now before Congress to include more funding for fruits and vegetables for schools, Slusser noted.
Programme rolled out to more schools
The salad bar programme has now been expanded to more than 60 schools throughout the 750 000-student school district, Slusser said, while other schools in the state and across the US are introducing similar programs.
"It's definitely a real movement around the whole country," she said. "I think that's reflected in the Farm Bill."
To investigate how a salad bar would influence children's eating habits, Slusser and colleagues interviewed 337 students in 1998, before the salad bar was introduced, and afterwards, in 2000.
How the study was done
All of the children at the three schools studied came from low-income families and were eligible for free school lunches.
The 96 children interviewed in 1998 consumed an average of 1 800 calories daily. They took in 251 grams of cholesterol and 26 grams of saturated fat, and ate a fruit or vegetable about three times a day.
In 2000, the 241 children interviewed were averaging 1 607 calories a day and eating fruits and vegetables four times a day. They ate about 201 grams of fat and 19 grams of saturated fat daily, while their percentage of calories from fat fell from 33 percent to 31 percent.
Nearly all of the increase in fruit and vegetable consumption occurred at lunchtime.
The fruit and veggie choices for kids are a far cry from the limp lettuce and soggy tomatoes people may remember from the early days of salad bars, Slusser noted.
More choice makes kids eat healthy
Children are offered about six choices of fresh fruits and vegetables, cut into easy-to-eat pieces.
"There was a big effort to make the food that was in the salad bar really appetising," she said.
"The more variety you offer, the more likely the child will take what they like, or have what they like," added Slusser, who noted that research has shown exposing kids repeatedly to a food increases the chance that they will try it, and come to like it.
Increasing kids' fruit and vegetable consumption is "one of the few interventions all along that we've been able to identify as a way to prevent childhood obesity," Slusser said. "We know this is something that makes a difference." – (Reuters Health)
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