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A Plant to Plate Pilot: A Cold-Climate High School Garden Increased Vegetable Selection but Also Waste

Wansink, Brian, Andrew Hanks, and David Just (2015). A Plant to Plate Pilot: A Cold-Climate High School Garden Increased Vegetable Selection but Also Waste. Acta Paediatrica, 104(8), 823-826. doi: 10.1111/apa.13028

Gardening activities have been implemented into curriculums in many schools and have been found to have notable impacts on student education, involvement, personal self-efficacy and confidence. Previous studies have found that school gardens positively impact children’s food choices by improving interest in vegetables. However, research has not investigated how school gardens impact actual consumption. In this exploratory study, we examined the potential impact that a cold-climate high school garden, independent of nutrition education, had on students’ vegetable selection and intake.

370 high-school students from an upstate New York high-school were observed in March-April 2012. Student tray-waste data were collected before and after they ate cafeteria lunches. We measured whether or not a student took a salad and, given that a salad was selected, the percentage of the salad that was eaten. Data were collected on three separate days. On the third day, harvested greens from the school’s garden were included in the salads being served in the cafeteria and the salads were promoted throughout the school. Changes in selection and plate waste were measured.

Results showed that when the salads served contained garden greens from a school garden, the percentage of students who selected salad increased from 2% to 10%. Additionally, waste increased when garden greens were in the salad. On average, students ate two-thirds of the serving they took. Although waste increased relative to when the salad did not contain garden greens, more students were consuming at least some salad.

This study suggests that school gardens can have a positive impact on students’ selection and consumption of school-raised produce. Although, on average, students only ate two-thirds of the salad served, it is promising to see that still more produce was consumed compared to the past. These findings identify interesting applications for future research that can provide important insights schools can employ to improve what students nutrition.