Drink your vegetables!


A study by University of Akron Honors College students that found a high rate of vegetable waste in school cafeterias won some notice at a recent food service trade show.

How much good nutrition ends up in the garbage at Akron elementary schools sparked discussion at the School Nutrition Association’s Industry Conference. Laura Turner Seydel, chair of the Atlanta-based Captain Planet Foundation and a presenter at the conference, said she was disturbed to learn that so many Akron students were throwing away their sweet potatoes: “I thought sweet potatoes were like candy!” One of the foundation’s programs is Project Learning Garden, which promotes healthy foods through schoolyard gardens.

Emma Salzbrenner, and Sarah Wright.

Emma Salzbrenner, left, and Sarah Wright, found youngsters would rather drink their fruits and vegetables than eat them.

The UA study found that vegetables, even sweet potatoes, ended up in the garbage more often than in stomachs. Marketing majors Emma Salzbrenner and Sarah Wright studied whether elementary school students would choose vegetables or a carton of 100 percent vegetable-fruit juice at lunchtime. Their findings could have an impact on the choices students see in the cafeteria lunch line.

The study’s findings, in small bites:

  • The grade school kids took the juice, called Wango Mango, more readily than they did broccoli or sweet potatoes.
  • The juice was less likely to get tossed in the trash than the vegetables.
  • Kids consumed nearly two-thirds of the nutrition available from the juice, but only a little more than one-third the nutrition available from the broccoli.

An earlier study by researchers in Boston estimated that $1.2 billion worth of school lunch food is wasted nationwide each year.

The law requires schools participating in the federal school lunch program to offer students fruits and vegetables every day. The juice, made by Akron-based Country Pure Foods, qualifies as a healthy choice under the nutrition rules. Country Pure Foods commissioned the study.

Joe Koch, vice president of marketing at Country Pure Foods, says the findings reinforce what cafeteria workers already know – that kids are throwing away their vegetables and that, given the choice, they would rather have the vegetable-fruit juice blend.

Country Pure Foods drew on a summary of the UA students’ findings for a school lunch waste presentation at the School Nutrition Association conference Jan. 11-13 in Phoenix.

Media contact: Roger Mezger, 330-972-6482 or rmezger@uakron.edu.