2015 In Review Newsletter TemplateCould the way that vegetables are prepared and served actually encourage more children to eat them? Debra Zellner and a team of researchers from Monell Chemical Senses Center observed school lunches, including the Eatiquette program, to find out.

Partnering with the Vetri Community Partnership and sensory scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, food psychologist Debra Zellner spent the past school year observing student lunches at two Philadelphia schools located in low-income neighborhoods.

On sabbatical from Montclair State University, Zellner — an established scientific expert on food acceptance — had stepped out of the lab and into the school lunchroom to ask whether the Eatiquette program’s scratch-made, chef-inspired dishes actually lead school children to eat more healthily. Funded through a grant to Monell from the Barra Foundation, the team decided to focus on the amount of lunchtime vegetables eaten by 3rd and 4th graders.

Zellner watched as many kids simply discarded vegetables such as steamed string beans from the non-Eatiquette meals. Conversely, when served the cooked-from-scratch Eatiquette meals, most students ate more of the vegetables, which ranged from baked sweet potato fries to kale and barley salad.

The data showed that children served Eatiquette lunches did indeed learn to like their veggies. In the beginning of the school year, only 31 percent of the kids ate all their cauliflower when it was served – even though it was well prepared á la Eatiquette. Fast forward four months of Eatiquette lunches and 70 percent chowed down their entire serving of cauliflower.

Noting that school might be the only place where some children have a chance to eat a wide variety of vegetables, Zellner says that “when those vegetables are repeatedly unappetizing, the kids learn to eliminate vegetables from their diet.” She sees Eatiquette as providing kids with a more positive perspective on healthy food.

“The Eatiquette principles are helping the kids to eat more veggies,” said Zellner.

— Adapted from “Neighborhood Science” in Monell Sensations: The Monell Center Blog, http://blog.monell.org/