School Lunches in the U.S. -Yes you can make kids want to eat vegetables: make them a bit more Mediterranean.

I’m currently in Philadelphia attending the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo organized by the Academy of  Nutrition and Dietetics (former American Dietetic Association), and while I’m here, of course there has been much discussion of the new lunches of the National School Lunch Program. Apparently kids in the US schools do not want to eat the new school lunches that must now include fruits and vegetables according to the new requirements. Not surprising considering how they are serving those vegetables.

Well let’s see what is going on here: According to the NYT, these revised school lunches include string beans, baked sweet potato wedges and packaged baby carrots. Well of course the kids are throwing them in the garbage. I don’t like eating plain string beans or plain carrots either, and I’m an adult and a nutritionist!

Boring vegetables
The problem here is that we’re trying to get kids to eat more vegetables by just giving plain, boring, tasteless vegetables. And not only kids, adults are trying to do this too. I see this phenomenon every time I visit the US; time and time again they try and get their vegetables requirements by eating raw or plainly cooked vegetables. They are trying to eat more of them by serving them with dips: there are only so many raw broccoli florets you can eat with ranch dip or steaming or boiling vegetables maybe with a touch margarine or butter. l mean really, how many vegetables can you eat that way?

They need to look at what what cultures who have a high intake of vegetables do. And yes, I will recommend to look at what Greeks do , who have one of the higest intake of vegetables in Europe. How do they manage to eat all those vegetables? What do Greeks do? They cook their vegetables with some fat (olive oil), herbs, tomato sauce and they eat those vegetables with cheese. Now that doesn’t sound too difficult or too exotic, right?

Not only does this make vegetables more palatable but they are healthier; the fat causes higher absorption of certain antioxidants and vitamins. But the bottom line here is that vegetables cooked this way are more palatable.

Help kids learn to like vegetables
So those folks at the School Lunch Program should try and serve vegetables in a different way. Of course I’m not saying that they start serving them Greek food (although actually that’s not such a bad idea) or other “exotic” cuisines (apparently they tried serving quinoa salads and vegetable curry and that didn’t work) but that they simply cook the vegetables, add a bit of a mild flavored olive oil (doesn’t have to be extra virgin) or some other somewhat healthy fat and some grated cheese. Give them a slice of bread and some more cheese and see what happens. A great example of this technique, is a quick solution I do when I haven’t prepared vegetables for my kids: I take a frozen vegetable mix (peas, corn, green beans, red pepper) steam it, add olive oil, a bit of vinegar (balsamic) and crumbled feta cheese or Parmesan. Both my sons literally eat 2 servings. They eat it because it’s tasty.

Unfortunately, this method of serving vegetables in the US schools is not only ineffective, but is also makes kids hate vegetables even more.

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  1. I agree with you 100%. My son’s elementary school added a salad bar to the lunch menu in an effort to encourage healthy eating. It was a failure because raw, factory prepped vegetables are tasteless and boring. At home my kids will consume any vegetable if it is well prepared. If I add a generous pour of good olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice on a pile of sautéed of greens or steamed green beans or broccoli and every last bit will be gobbled up. They like it even more if I sauté with plenty of garlic. And when I roast vegetables (asparagus, cauliflower, butternut squash or even Brussels sprouts) with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle of Parmesan, it all disappears. Thanks for spreading the word, one recipe at a time.