Many of the uber-fit celebrities we see have a not-so-secret way of staying healthy. Meal plans and personal chefs preparing each and every meal to perfection makes it a lot easier to stay on track with a healthy diet. This is the thought process behind a strategy (the First Lady’s Chefs Move to Schools) school lunch rooms are adopting where chefs are being hired to design healthy menus kids will actually eat.
Time reports about a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics that suggests this personal chef strategy is actually working. The personal chef program is called “Smarter Lunchrooms” and also includes a simple strategy called “Smart Cafe” of placing the healthiest options like fruits and veggies front and center where kids can easily see and reach them. (This is the same idea behind grocery stores placing the sugary cereals and junk food lower on the shelf and eye level with kids.)
Researchers looked at 14 schools in low-income areas of Massachusetts with some randomly assigned to take part in the chef program. The study found that schools that hired professional chefs saw an increase in the amount of fruits and veggies consumed by students. Kids at the chef schools were 3 times more likely to put vegetable on their plate and 16% more likely to actually consume the veggies. Students at these schools were also 17% more likely to try fruits.
Schools that adopted both the chef and Smart Café program didn’t see as much of a dramatic change though kids were more likely to eat more veggies. Juliana Cohen from the Harvard School of Public Health explains how the key to healthier school lunches appears to be the addition of a professional chef in the lunch room. She says, “We were quite surprised to see that when we looked at the combined smart café and chefs, there was no additional benefit beyond the impact of the chef. Really it’s the impact of the chef that is driving the increase in consumption. We also saw that chef schools also increased selection as well, so there is a double benefit in these schools.”
Though it’s decidedly not financially possible or practical for all schools to hire a full time chef, Cohen suggests there may be another way. She believes school districts could possibly pool their money and share one chef who can help to train and educate lunch staff at several schools to make healthier meals.
What do you think of the study that suggests kids eat healthier when their school has a full time chef on staff?
Do you think more schools should consider getting some help from professional chefs with their lunch menu?