ABC recently wrapped up a six-part primetime series called “Food Revolution” in which celebrity chef Jamie Oliver overhauled school lunches at a school system in Huntington, West Virginia, the most overweight city in the United States.
A Washington Post article summarizing the level of success of the project paints a fairly rosy picture of incorporating Oliver’s ideas into life in Huntington. Other outlets have indicated, however, that uptake of the new from-scratch cooking has been less than stellar with the kids.
Some time back, an MSNBC article reported that a survey of the school found children overwhelmingly preferred institutional fare to his freshly made offerings — so much so that many stopped buying lunch.
This made us wonder if there’s something that Jamie could have done differently to increase acceptance among the kids. So we asked one of our most experienced dietitians in the division of nutrition therapy what she thinks.
Her first point was actually kind of surprising: don’t call it a “revolution.” Some people may translate that to a takeover or a war, putting them people immediately on defense. Hmm.
Another thing, she said, was that change takes time. Kids younger than 12 cannot process some of the concern for nutrition and the need for changes.
A slower replacement of the new food items generally leads to greater acceptance. Gradual introduction of healthier versions of staples such as whole-wheat pasta, pitas and brown rice, can be a great way to start. Better versions of the things they’re used to – think baked chips or low fat cream cheese – often go unnoticed when substituted.
Jamie’s decision to only offer white milk in the cafeteria was also a significant sticking point for the kids and one of the reasons they chose not to partake in the new healthy lunches. Our dietitian said she hopes Jamie looked into low-fat options for strawberry and chocolate milk before removing them entirely.
The milk selection is one of the things that went back to “normal” after Jamie moved on from West Virginia. The school decided the nutritional value of milk outweighed the couple of teaspoons of sugar in the flavored versions. It seems that maybe they made the right choice on that one.
Our dietitian said she believes a slow change will eventually work. Jamie wasn’t able to stay in Huntington, so now it is up to the school to continue educating the children and their parents.
All in all, our hats are off to the project. Education is key, and the show not only helped the kids learn something, but their parents, educators and the show’s viewers also learned that most school lunch programs across the United States could use some sort of intervention.