Teaching kids to grow, cook and eat their own food in a school setting has caused some to question whether such programs are time and money well spent. Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley say their new study shows that edible schoolyards work. The study, funded by nonprofits Chez Panisse Foundation and the Center for Ecoliteracy, evaluated the School Lunch Initiative. Alice Waters, chef of the Chez Panisse restaurant and local foods advocate, helped launch the initiative within the Berkeley Unified School District, and it became one of the most comprehensive programs in the country, with highly developed programs that integrate school curriculum, school gardens, cooking classes and homegrown meals in school cafeterias.
In this study, researchers followed 238 students involved in the program as they went from fourth and fifth grade into middle school between 2006 and 2009. Though the study didn’t measure academic performance, it looked at students’ knowledge of and attitudes toward nutrition, food, the environment, and eating behaviors. Improvements were found across all categories.
Specifically, 60 percent of parents with children in the program said school changed their child’s knowledge about healthy food choices, compared with 36 percent in programs that only focused on improving school food but didn’t have regular cooking, garden and lesson components. Thirty-five percent said school improved their child’s eating habits, compared with 16 percent in lesser-developed programs. Students in these programs also increased their fruit and vegetable intake by nearly one and half servings per day and showed a broader preference for fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens.