It can be difficult to get kids to eat healthy food but some help from a professional chef may improve the way students consume fruits and vegetables in the school cafeteria.

In a new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, March 23, Eric Rimm from the Harvard School of Public Health and colleagues conducted a clinical trial involving 2,638 students from grades three to eight from schools that were randomly assigned to get training from a professionally trained chef on improving the taste of healthy meals served to students in the school cafeteria.

The schools were also given advice about presenting food, such as putting the vegetables at the front of the lunch line and placing fruits in attractive containers.

After three months, the researchers found that the students attending schools assisted by chefs chose 8 percent more vegetables compared with their counterparts in schools that did not receive assistance from a chef. After the seventh month, the students in chef-assisted schools had 30 percent increased odds of choosing a vegetable and were 20 percent more likely to opt for fruits than the students at other schools.

"It was a great success and really illustrated that through persistence, school-aged children can learn to like healthy whole grains, fruits, and vegetables especially if they taste good," said Rimm. "Schools should therefore put more effort into improving the palatability of school meals for the biggest impact on students' diets."

It appears, however, that there were no changes when it comes to consumption of entrée selections and regular milk over chocolate milk. The researchers said that their aim was to have a chef who is able to work with the whole school district train personnel and design more palatable recipes sans increasing meal costs.

The researchers said that the students can be encouraged to eat healthier food by improving the taste of the food with the help of a professional chef. Experts likewise stressed the importance of good taste and nutrition for the health of children.

"Efforts to improve the taste of school foods through chef-enhanced meals should remain a priority because this was the only method that also increased consumption," the researchers wrote in their study. "This was observed only after students were repeatedly exposed to the new foods for 7 months. Therefore, schools should not abandon healthier options if they are initially met with resistance."

Photo: Jennie Faber | Flickr

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