At Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, New Hampshire, school lunches from the Fresh Picks Café are more than just a source of sustenance, they’re part of the curriculum.
In March, Fresh Picks Café joined with teachers in an interdisciplinary course on food to show students how public policy and politics influences food costs, nutritional quality, and most important to kids, taste.
The goal: Get students asking — Do federal regulations encourage or discourage healthy eating habits; and what steps can government take to help kids make smarter, healthier food choices?
The Fresh Picks Café class had students sample school lunches based on pre- and post- USDA Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act standards.
By comparing pre- and post-Act muffins, pizza, chicken, rice other foods, students got a taste for how changes in calories, whole grain, sodium and produce requirements affect flavor and portion sizes — and ultimately — kids’ eating choices.
What did the taste tests reveal? “Students prefer white rice over the brown rice we’re mandated to serve by Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids,” says Fresh Picks Café Manager of Training and Nutrition Services, Frank Gillespie. “The problem comes when kids won’t eat the brown rice. If it’s their only choice at school, they won’t get the calories they need.”
The lesson for students? Sanborn High social studies teacher Michelle Wheeler, explains: “Kids learned that regulations that are well intended, don’t always lead to positive results. Just because healthy food is available, doesn’t mean kids will choose it.”
“Taste matters to kids,” explains Gillespie, who led the Fresh Picks Café class with Fresh Picks Café Executive Chef, Matt Pierce.
Not all aspects of the USDA Act got a thumbs-down from kids. Students also learned that with time, they can acquire a taste for the healthier option; for example, whole wheat pizza crust versus white — so much so, they don’t even notice a difference in taste.
Students also agreed that regulations capping calorie counts in school snacks are a good thing. When kids are forced to choose between an under-200-calorie whole grain cookie and no cookie, making the healthy choice is a no-brainer.
Through lessons in food science and nutrition, kids also learned to be skeptical of changes consumers are led to believe are healthy, but aren’t; for example, reducing fat in yogurt and replacing it with sugar.
“The more kids know about what makes a healthy plate, and the factors that influence what’s served at school and stocked at the grocery store, the more they’ll be motivated to make the smart choice,” says Gillespie.
“These are life-long lessons. At Fresh Picks Café, it’s our mission to give them that foundation.”