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The science of school lunch
Date:5/27/2014

In terms of ambience, Charlotte Central's cafeteria is -- well, conjure up your own elementary school lunch experience. There's more than one reason to run to recess. But on a recent visit to observe a group of researchers from UVM's Johnson Lab, the lunch ladies were serving up something more likely to be found on a restaurant menu: risotto with mushrooms and peas. It's the result of a host of programs by schools around Vermont to offer more tempting choices -- with locally sourced ingredients when possible, including herbs and vegetables from the playground garden -- and to get children to eat more healthfully. But is it working?

That's what Rachel Johnson, Robert L. Bickford Jr. Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences, along with her research team, is trying to find out. And they aren't alone in their concern. Since Fall 2012, USDA regulations require students across the country to take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch, a good intention that might easily go to the garbage.

To get answers about what actually happens to those dressed up peas and mushrooms -- or the obligatory apple next to the mac and cheese -- the Johnson Lab has developed state-of-the-art digital imaging to measure consumption, a method just validated by a paper published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The researchers, Johnson's "army of undergraduates," image children's trays when they leave the line and then again when they're finished eating. They've already weighed and photographed a correct portion of each fruit and vegetable item offered, as well as analyzed recipes to determine how much fruit and vegetable a serving contains.

Back at the lab, visually comparing the composite before and after photos alongside the comparison data, researchers can accurately determine consumption within two grams, a statistically valid but much less labor-intensive means of assessing dietary intake compared to the curre
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Contact: Lee Ann Cox
leeann.cox@uvm.edu
802-656-1107
University of Vermont
Source:Eurekalert  

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