Why Johnny won't eat School lunches: The real draw at meal-times is socializing, not food.

September 04, 1996

NEWS FLASH! Tons of food in "healthy" school lunches are wasted! As if adults couldn't figure it out by observing generations of youthful preferences, the General Accounting Office has surveyed school cafeteria managers to find out why kids turn their noses up at all that good food Uncle Sam subsidizes.

The answer? Kids are more interested in socializing with friends, especially when they feel the food is unappetizing. According to the cafeteria managers, 42 percent of the cooked vegetables served to school children ends up in the trash. Alas, the fate of raw vegetables and fresh or canned fruit isn't much better.

Let's hope parents are shocked by this news. Any adult who actually expects a school lunchroom to inspire major changes in children's eating habits has a lot to learn about human behavior. Let's hope the adults paid to worry about such things also learn another lesson from this survey -- that giving kids some choice in what they eat is the best way to increase consumption. When schools in Fargo, N.D., allowed student committees in each school to help plan menus, food waste was cut 80 percent.

Getting kids to eat their food is very important for the children for whom school meals are the best nutrition they get. But there's a message here about the social needs as well.

As a nation, we worry -- and rightly so -- about the many children who have too little to eat. But what about the kids who go home to silent mealtimes, nibbled alone or with family members too engrossed in a television show to carry on a conversation? As political candidates love to remind us during campaign season, there is more than one kind of poverty. And poverty of the spirit -- including the lack of routine and pleasant interaction with adults who cherish them -- can be every bit as stunting for children as the lack of good, nutritious food.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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