Food and Behaviour Research

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24 March 2015 - MNT - Bringing chefs into school kitchens proves effective in randomized trial for healthy eating

Markus MacGill

Inolving professional chefs in the creation of school meals - to make healthy choices more palatable to kids - has been tested in a randomized trial of the intervention, with the results showing a positive effect on the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by children.

The study, led by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and published in JAMA Pediatrics, compared the effect of assigning a program of chef-enhanced meals at four randomly selected schools among a total of 14 taking part in the trial.

The consumption by children in these schools - in terms of selection and amounts of food - was compared with that in the remaining 10 schools providing standard meals as usual.

The chef-led improvements were then included for all schools further down the line in the trial, and a second intervention was also randomized - the use of "smart café" approaches. Only the chef interventions improved consumption of healthy choices, however.

The study found that the improved taste of school foods brought by the involvement of chefs who have a culinary degree needed to be experienced by the students repeatedly for 7 months.

"The students were repeatedly exposed to several new recipes on a weekly basis during the 7-month intervention period." After this time, the average vegetable consumption went up, as did fruit. Consumption was measured by composition of the recipes and the amount of plate waste after meals.

The percentage of vegetables within the meals consumed by students went up to 59.7% in the chef-enhanced program, which compares with a vegetable consumption of 28.9% in the standard school program.

For fruit, consumption as a result of the new recipes rose to 88.1% from 67.4%. 

 "Therefore," the authors conclude, "schools should not abandon healthier options if they are initially met with resistance."