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Healthier lunches helps school budgets

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It’s lunchtime at Lady Bird Johnson High School in San Antonio. Hundreds of ravenous teenagers are crowding into the cafeteria and if you’re expecting fruits out of a can and microwaved cheeseburgers, you would be wrong. Luisa Kates plans the menus for the school district, which include items like cucumber salad, and apples, peaches, oranges.

Across the country, school cafeterias are rolling out healthier menu items to counter an obesity epidemic. What schools may not have expected was that a healthier menu could also mean a healthier bottom line.

“So there was a greater profit in the schools that implemented the healthier nutritional goals,” said Roberto Trevino, who works at the Social and Health Research Center in San Antonio. He just completed a three-year study of 42 middle schools around the country. Half of them changed their menus to include more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while cutting out high-calorie desserts and sugary drinks.

“There was no negative impact on the finances of the school,” said Trevino. “Both sets of schools were profitable but the intervention schools made $1.1 million more profit than the control schools.”

While schools may have worried that fruits and vegetables would just rot on the shelf if they ordered more, Trevino said it’s all about how you sell it. In the study, schools — and students — were encouraged to really market the more nutritious items.

“It was peer pressure that was producing these changes in the children to go into line and consume the healthier meals,” he said.

So what’s the big seller at Ladybird Johnson High School this week? Kates says the cafeteria’s manager has sold out of kiwi. “She had to get a second or a third delivery, actually, this week just to keep up the fresh fruit for the kids.”

Whatever the hot item is next week, you can be sure it won’t come out of a can.

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