School cafeterias can play an important role in providing healthy meals. Although schools participating in the National School Lunch Program are required to meet minimum program standards, advocates recommend that innovations be sought to enhance menu dietary quality. This study evaluated the Chef Initiative, a 2-year pilot study in two Boston middle schools, designed to increase the availability and consumption of healthier school foods. Between 2007 and 2009, a professional chef trained cafeteria staff to prepare healthier school lunches (ie, more whole grains, fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables, and less sugar, salt, saturated fats, and trans fats). Meal nutrient compositions were monitored from 2007 to 2009, and a plate waste study conducted in the spring of 2009 compared food selection and consumption patterns among students at Chef Initiative schools, with students receiving standard school lunches at two matched control schools. Paired t tests and descriptive statistics were used to examine differences in menus and mixed-model analysis of variance was used to analyze differences in students' food selection and consumption between Chef Initiative and control schools. Overall, the Chef Initiative schools provided healthier lunches and the percent of foods consumed at Chef Initiative and control schools were similar (61.6% vs 57.3%; P=0.63). Of the areas targeted, there was greater whole-grain selection and vegetable consumption; 51% more students selected whole grains (P=0.02) and students consumed 0.36 more vegetable servings/day (P=0.01) at Chef Initiative schools. The potential of chefs collaborating with cafeteria staff to improve the availability, selection, and consumption of healthier meals is promising.
Copyright © 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.