The impact of herbs and spices on acceptance, selection, and intake of vegetables served within a rural middle and high school lunch program

Juliana Fritts, M.S. Candidate, Department of Food Science

Date and Location

When (Date/Time)

April 19, 2018, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM


252 Food Science Building

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While vegetables play a vital role in a healthy diet, intake remains below recommendations for all age groups. Because the National School Lunch Program provides 30 million children with meals throughout the school year, it is a critical setting in which to influence the development of healthy dietary habits. In this series of studies, we investigated whether the use of herbs and spices might improve vegetable acceptance, selection, and intake within a rural middle and high school lunch program. Before recipe development, surveys conducted found herb and spice exposure to be limited within this population of students. The lack of recipes within federal regulations were also found to be a barrier to the preparation of palatable school vegetables by cafeteria staff. A set of seasoned and plain vegetable recipes in compliance with federal nutrition guidelines for schools were developed by a research chef and evaluated by high school students at their school during lunch. Students were found to rate the seasoned recipes higher than the plain recipes for broccoli, vegetable dip, a black beans and corn blend, and cauliflower. Students preferred the seasoned over the plain recipes for a corn and peas blend, broccoli, dip, a black beans and corn blend, cauliflower, and green beans. During an intervention study, vegetables were added into the school lunch menu and selection, choice to eat again, and intake were compared between the 8 plain and the 8 seasoned vegetable recipes. Middle school students ate more plain than seasoned broccoli, cauliflower, and corn and peas while high school students ate more plain than seasoned green beans. A trend was seen for the high school students to eat more seasoned than plain black beans and corn. A follow-up study was also conducted to determine if repeated exposure (5 total exposures) to two seasoning blends might improve selection, choice to eat again, and intake for the seasoned broccoli and seasoned black beans and corn recipes. More students said they would eat seasoned broccoli again at post-exposure than at pre-exposure and a trend toward increased seasoned broccoli intake was found. No exposure effects were found for the seasoned black beans and corn but more high school students after the exposure said they would eat the black beans and corn again (from 66.7% at pre-exposure to 92.3% at post-exposure). Further, while not significant, the increase in intake from pre- to post-exposure was higher for the middle schoolers (~24.0 grams) compared to the high schoolers (~7.0 grams). These studies propose that, even with low seasoning exposure, adolescents liked and preferred seasoned over plain vegetables. However, higher liking did not necessary translate to higher intake. Even so, repeated exposure to seasonings may have the potential to boost intake and acceptance of seasoned vegetables within students long term. Thus, the use of herbs and spices may be a useful strategy to improve vegetable acceptance and intake within federal school lunch programs.