Last Updated:April 20 @ 03:33 pm

The Problem: Getting kids to buy Michelle Obama's healthy food

By Kristen Wyatt

DENVER (AP) -- There will be more whole grains on school lunch menus this year, along with a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and other healthy options. The challenge is getting children to eat them.

"We don't want healthy trash cans. We want kids who are eating this stuff," said Kern Halls, a former Disney World restaurant manager who now works in school nutrition at Orange County Public Schools in Florida.

At a School Nutrition Association conference in Denver this summer, food workers heard tips about how to get children to make healthy food choices in the cafeteria.

The problem is a serious one for the nation's lunch-line managers, who are implementing the biggest update to federal school-food guidelines in 15 years.

New Department of Agriculture guidelines taking effect this fall set calorie and sodium limits for school meals. Schools must offer dark green, orange or red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, and students are required to select at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. Flavored milk must be nonfat, and there's a ban on artificial, artery-clogging trans fats.

At the conference, Halls demonstrated some healthy recipes for curious cafeteria managers, joining White House chef Sam Kass to prepare a veggie wrap using a whole-wheat tortilla.

Halls' main mission, though, was not pushing new recipes but teaching cafeteria managers marketing strategies used to great success by private-sector restaurants and food producers.

The first step, cafeteria workers were told, is to stop thinking of lunchtime as a break from academics, but a crucial part of a child's school day.

"Your job is not to serve kids food. Your job is motivate kids to be adventurous and healthy eaters," said Barb Mechura, head of nutrition services at schools in Hopkins, Minn.

Her school district recruited parent volunteers to be elementary-school "food coaches," touring cafeterias and handing out samples of fruits and vegetables. The food coaches would also demonstrate eating them. Food coaching may seem silly, but kids who have had chicken only as nuggets or patties may not know how to eat bone-in chicken and need to see how a grown-up eats it before trying it themselves.

As the kids graduate to middle and high schools, and grown-ups in the cafeteria aren't as welcome, schools can tap student ambassadors to be food coaches, perhaps asking the baseball team or a popular student athlete dish out veggies. Or, high school seniors might give underclassmen samples of a new vegetable coming to the cafeteria.

School cafeterias also are using cutting-edge market research. They're filming what kids eat, test-marketing new products before they go on the line and doing menu surveys to find out exactly what students think about a dish's taste, appearance and temperature.

A Colorado State University professor studied the dining habits of kids in Loveland, Colo., with an eye toward measuring ways to get them to choose healthier foods. Leslie Cunningham-Sabo, who photographed "before" and "after" pictures of kids' lunch trays, found that kids eat more fruits and vegetables if they have lunch after recess, instead of before recess. She found that corn consumption went up when generic "corn" labels were replaced with colorful cards describing the vegetable as "mellow yellow corn."

"Don't put veggies in opaque containers or give them boring labels like `corn,'" Cunningham-Sabo told the lunch workers, showing diagrams of how to lay out a service line to encourage trips to the salad bar.

Another trick - just like supermarkets place impulse buys like candy and chewing gum by the checkout, lunch lines should place easy-to-grab fruits and veggies by their own cash registers. Her study saw cafeterias double their sales of fresh fruit when they placed it colorful bowls in a convenient place.

"You really have to be in their face with what's available," Cunningham-Sabo said.

The marketing doesn't stop at the cafeteria doors. Lassen View Elementary School in Redding, Calif., got children to eat more fruits and vegetables when cafeteria manager Kathie Sardeson started a recess snack cart bringing the foods straight to the playground for kids to munch on.

Her school also bought an iPad 2 to raffle away to students who entered by choosing a healthy breakfast yogurt parfait and turning in tickets attached to the bottom. She tempted kids to try unusual flavors by giving out "Fear Factor Smoothies" including unexpected ingredients such as spinach. Sardeson said schools can be persuaded to invest more in nutrition promotions because the payoff is better students.

"We get a lot of feedback from teachers that behavior problems are way down because the kids are eating right," Sardeson said.

Educators are coming around to recognizing value in having better school food, Mechura told the cafeteria workers.

"Food is one of the most important influences on your everyday brain cells," Mechura said. Healthy eating habits, she argued, is as important as everything else schools are trying to teach.

"We have to change," Mechura said. "We have to build an environment that creates excitement about what we are doing rather than fear of new foods."

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28 Comments

  1. nickster99Comment by nickster99
    August 21, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

    I do not need michelle my belle obummer to tell me or my children what to eat! In fact I dont need anyone telling me what to eat. I do believe in eating healthy but I also like to splurge once in a while. I have heard of her parties and White house dinners with BBQ ribs, lobster thermadore, all kinds of fancy desserts etc. They can eat like kings and queens. But they trow us the carrot sticks and celery. This woman maakes me sick to my stomach.

    Its just another way of controlling the people. I dont think she cares one bit about what people eat. Its that power thing that gets her off! My God I cannot wait till November 6th!

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    • retiredmarinepilotComment by retiredmarinepilot
      August 21, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

      Trouble is there’s enough negros and Mexicans on the dole to carry them into another term. Energize your friends to get out and vote them out!

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      Rating: 3.9/5 (11 votes cast)
    • inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
      August 21, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

      That health food she eats sure didn’t stop her legs from bowing or her hips from growing. Holy Rickets Batman. I think I’ll feed my kids real food.

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    • dorisComment by doris
      August 22, 2012 @ 8:38 am

      I certainly hope that there is something other than “whole grains” for the many children who now must avoid gluten. If they don’t provide for them, they will condemn them to a long, slow, but sure death! I wonder if Moochelle has any awareness of Celiac Disease – probably not, since its a disease that exists predominately among White people. It has been found in people of other races, but it’s occurrence in non-White populations is rare. Or, maybe that’s part of her plan – to kill the white babies!

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    • MorganComment by Morgan
      August 22, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

      What it boils down to is Michele Obama is taking over our school lunchrooms. And using seniors as “tools/ambassadors” to try to get the younger kids to eat this “healthy” food. Just another way that the Obamas want to indoctrinate kids into their “Obama youth” organization.

      This caught my eye….”Schools must offer” Apparently it is not a choice, it is a mandate. I get so sick of the Obama meddling into every aspect of our lives and taking the raising of our kids out of our hands.

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  2. prairelivingComment by praireliving
    August 21, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

    Food coaches? Really? Show the kids how to eat a food?
    I guess I am a food coach for my kids when I show them how to plant the seeds, tend the garden and then eat the bounty God provides. Thing is, they still won’t try the tomatoes and only like potatoes as fries…and they rarely eat McDonald’s or other fast food as we live over 50 miles from the nearest one.

    I am really tired of the government trying to tell everyone how to run their lives when they are doing a terrible job of running the country.

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    • pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
      August 21, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

      That whole section of the article just made me laugh. If our school children can’t figure out how to eat a piece of chicken, we are in real trouble as a country. Geez. How are we ever going to teach them reading and math when they can’t even figure out how to get food from the plate to their stomach?

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    • retiredmarinepilotComment by retiredmarinepilot
      August 21, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

      You’re so right. Each new day is a whole new adventure with this idiot fat *** in our white house. Kids have to be taught how to eat a piece of chicken. Now that’s government going too damn far. So far we’ve seen them PAYING black kids to attend class and now free IPADs if you eat your veggies?! When will people wake up and see what the Obama’s are doing to us?

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      Rating: 4.3/5 (12 votes cast)
    • sistertereseComment by sisterterese
      August 21, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

      That is the problem with public schools: they are doing everything BUT educating children. They have become the government nannies of indoctrination and mind control. How many times I shiver in horror when I hear school-age children spouting off some kind of radical-leftist-marxists nonsense that they have no understanding of the meaning. They spout these things off because they hear it day in and day out in public (and many private) schools. Teachers don’t teach anymore–they indoctrinate–sort of reminds me of the Hitler Youth program.

      Send Mitchelle and her commie hubby back to the middle east where they belong.

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  3. kelstepheComment by kelstephe
    August 21, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

    I too am sick of that phony telling me what my kids can and can’t eat at school. The high school my teenager attends already has a “Mandatory Community Service” requirement. They can not move forward to the next year unless they fulfill their “voluntary” hours. Forcing someone to do voluntary work kinda makes it not voluntary anymore. Now, the kids are forced to eat certain items. My kid has come home hungry the past couple days because the “healthy options” were just plain gross. Here’s an idea—- at the next PTO meeting, lets get a couple moms together to create a menu that the kids will love, not leave it up to Moochele whose kids always get gourmet meals made by an executive chef. I bet she hasn’t cooked for her kids ever.

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  4. lowlifeComment by lowlife
    August 21, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

    There needs to be an end to the federal school lunch program, which would end the ability of the feds to interfere in this sort of thing. If a local school district decides to run a restaurant (or anything else), it should be financed and controlled at the local level, not from Washington, or the state capital. It’s time to put an end to all the “free money” (which isn’t free, it costs the public a great deal more after being strained through the federal and state bureaucracies, than if it were raised locally) that is used to bribe and bully state and local authorities into giving up control over their own institutions. Anything that local taxpayers aren’t willing to pay for probably shouldn’t exist (there is a limit as to how much of our money we can allow government to take, regardless of what it’s for).

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    • pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
      August 21, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

      My son told me that he knows a lot of kids at his school that get free or reduced lunches. Most of those kids have iPhones. He doesn’t understand why their parents can afford to buy their kid an iPhone but can’t afford to pay for their kid’s lunch. He doesn’t have an iPhone and we don’t qualify for free lunch. I told him you have more money laying around for luxuries when the government (taxpayers) pays your bills for you.

      I remember watching a segment on the local news a little while back about the increased number of people receiving food stamps. The lady that they showed applying for food stamps (they showed her from the back only) had a fancy manicure and a really nice cell phone. I also see people on welfare/food stamps getting tattoos and buying cigarettes. Those things are quite expensive.

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    • sistertereseComment by sisterterese
      August 21, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

      Let’s do one better: trash the entire public school system. Start by outlawing public school boards, teacher unions and federations, and especially outlawing the NEA. Next, get rid of all the “education” experts in colleges and universities. Then, no one has to worry about school lunch programs, marxist propaganda poisoning the minds of our innocent children, and kids who can’t read, write, or add two plus two without a calculator, yet they sure do feel good about themselves! That’s just to start off. After all of that has been destroyed, begin again by employing real teachers–not educators–from the ranks of private and parochial schools. Like other businesses, teachers should be held accountable. Likewise, parents are forbidden to blame teachers for little Johnny not getting straight A’s or for little Janey not feeling good about herself because the teacher gave her a “C” on something. Stop making excuses for the bad behavior and laziness of your children! As a teacher for over 25 years, I know of what I speak. Children will do only what is demanded of them and no more–and usually much less. Parents need to demand excellence from their children’s schools and teachers, but ALSO from their children! That is EXACTLY what Moo-shell and her dictator husband want you all to forget! Talk about an “Eva Perone” complex!

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  5. mrwilsonComment by mrwilson
    August 21, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

    Sadly, for too many children in America this may be their main meal of the day. They will eat it and I hope that they are thankful. The table has turned and now Chinese parent are telling their children to “clean their plates, as there are hungry children in America.”

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    • pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
      August 21, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

      They aren’t eating it. It ends up in the trash can. I’m not sure what the heck they are eating while they are at school.

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    • chamuielComment by chamuiel
      August 21, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

      And just think, that one meal a day will be veggies.

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    • prairelivingComment by praireliving
      August 21, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

      You’d be surprised at how many kids don’t eat the food. My sister teaches in a public school, had a pregnant teen who refused to eat the healthy turkey, cheese, tomato and lettuce sandwich, fruit and milk because she didn’t like the tomato and lettuce. She tossed the whole lunch and instead found the money to buy ‘hot fries’ (those weird potato snack food) and a Mountain Dew. When her social worker found out my sister was the one who got an earful and almost written up for not forcing the student to eat well. What was my sister supposed to do…force it down her throat?

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    • sistertereseComment by sisterterese
      August 21, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

      As a teacher and principal for over 25 years, I can tell you that kids waste 95% of their food–even food packed from loving and caring moms and dads. What do they eat? Candy! Where do they get it? From stores! The only place I worked where kids didn’t waste food was in a school in South Miami. They had a retired lady who cooked traditional Cuban food everyday–rice and black beans, Cuban sandwiches, picadillo, marinated chicken, pastitios (sp?), and these delicious little chicken and ham crockettes. She also offered other, more American dishes to the kids. Of course, this was a private (Catholic) school where the kids had to pay for their food if they wanted a hot lunch. Oh, and guess what? The kids prayed GRACE before and after they ate lunch…imagine that! :)

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    • canada3dayerComment by canada3dayer
      August 22, 2012 @ 3:44 am

      I think I would be a good teacher (I do teach riding on occasion) but I couldn’t do it in public schools. first time one of them backsassed me they’d find themself in a throatlock against the wall, hopefully questioning the wisdom of their actions. and trying to deal with the parent – most of the time, the real troublemakers come from single parent, non-caring parent households and they seem to think their “little Suzie/Johnny would NEVER do something like that” while in reality little Suzie or Johnny is the Spawn of Satan…

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    • nickster99Comment by nickster99
      August 22, 2012 @ 8:19 am

      Oh my God sisterterese! If the kids are buying candy at stores. Then we will have to ban and close all stores that sell candy within 10,000 feet of all schools! That’s what they do in Chicago. Problem is I have never seen this action solve any problems.

      Why cant the government just GET THE HELL OUT OF OUR LIVES!

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  6. chamuielComment by chamuiel
    August 21, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

    Michelle would not even be a good dishwasher in a School cafeteria, let alone a food coach. Well, on second thought we could hike the veggies in her face.

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  7. conservkatComment by conservkat
    August 21, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

    I just want to thank the Queen now that all this marketing and nutrition tweeking has been implmented I can’t afford school lunches. Our shool has raised the price by 10 cents to 3.10 and while that dosen’t seem like much multiply that by 5(days of the week) and then by 3 (#of kids) but if you qualify for reduced lunch it’s only 40 cents! How does that work? My kids will pack and I pity the fool who snoops into my kids lunch sack!

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  8. joelinpdxComment by joelinpdx
    August 21, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

    When your goal is to control the people, what better place to start than with the kids. Once you hit the mid-20s you’re pretty well set in your ways. If the socialists can start controlling the kids, they’ll have a much easier job of getting people to think like good little leftists when they get to be of voting age.

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  9. csbridgComment by csbridg
    August 21, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

    Here is what I don’t get. If Michelle Obama is so concerned about healthy eating why is her husband’s administration so bent on taking away our rights to organic foods and natural supplements? This is a fight I have been involved in for some time and even some of our most conservative representatives are behind the bills that will basically wipe out anything other than GMO foods. And yet, Michelle Obama is so proud of her organic garden. Their actions are just totally beyond my comprehension.

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  10. sistertereseComment by sisterterese
    August 21, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

    Talk about “Big Bruh-thah”, eh?! Sort of reminds me of when the slob from arkansas occupied the White House and all his and wifey’s blather about how wonderful public schools are! Then, promptly put their progeny in an exclusive, elitist, private school. “Let them eat cake!” Oops…I mean, “Let them eat carrot sticks!”

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  11. clarkentComment by clarkent
    August 21, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

    For over a hundred years, kids went to school, ate what was given to them. I just don’t understand how they survived. Ha Ha. This is just another Federal intrusion into our private lives. Pretty soon they will tell us what kind of toilet paper to use.

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    • sistertereseComment by sisterterese
      August 21, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

      SHHHHH! Don’t give them any new ideas!

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  12. John SweetComment by John Sweet
    August 21, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

    Obviously She does not follow her own food smarts ideas that makes her a hypocrite, “do as I say not as I do!”

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