Increasing the Consumption of Whole Grain Foods in School Meals



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Current national dietary policy recommends that half, or three, of the six daily servings of grain foods be consumed as whole grains. However, most American children prefer to consume enriched, refined over whole grains. One way of increasing the consumption of whole grain foods to children is through school meals. Why children and adolescents prefer enriched, refined grains over whole grain foods is thought to be due to product color and texture, but no literature exists that quantifies this, especially within the context of the National School Lunch Program. Information and research is therefore needed to examine and address this issue. Since each school district's child nutrition department determines whether whole grain foods are offered in their schools, we conducted a roundtable discussion with Texas school dietitians to understand their experiences with providing whole grains. A phenomenological analysis of this discussion's transcript exposed how Texas school dietitians balance serving nutritious meals in their cafeterias, while maintaining customer acceptance of the foods. Whether or not students consume whole grains determines if these foods are served again. Input from participants determined which whole grain were foods tested in this study: hamburger buns, sandwich bread, tortillas and spaghetti. Focus groups were conducted with 137 elementary, middle and high school students in our targeted school district. Transcripts of these focus groups revealed the vocabulary students use to characterize their perceptions of whole grain foods tested. Using this vocabulary, consumer acceptance ballots were then developed and tested. Consumer acceptance testing of whole grain foods was conducted during scheduled lunch periods in three different schools. The main objective of this study was to determine at what percent do whole grains contained in grain foods served in school meals become unacceptable to students. Our study determined that a 51% whole grain food product was acceptable to students and a 100% whole grain product was not. Color, taste and texture of a whole grain food can influence its acceptance by these students, but that acceptance is dependent on the percent whole grain content of the food and whether it is made with white or red whole wheat flour.