The Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. School

Berkeley Unified School District’s School Lunch Initiative (SLI) has been hailed nationwide as a model for teaching children about food and the importance of good nutrition.

But for every glowing report from the Edible Schoolyard, there have been critics carping about Berkeley hippies detracting from “real” education.

Now, however, research by the University of California Berkeley’s Atkins Center for Weight and Health supports the claims that SLI and similar programs have a lasting effect on children’s eating habits — and their continuing health and welfare.

The study looked at schools both with “highly developed” SLI programs — that included cooking and gardening — and ones with “lesser developed” SLI programs — that had improved school lunches, but no regular cooking and gardening integrated with classroom lessons.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Students in schools with highly developed School Lunch Initiative components scored higher on nutrition knowledge than those in schools with lesser-developed components.
  • Preference for fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, was greater in schools highly developed School Lunch Initiative components.
  • Younger students in these schools increased fruit and vegetable intake by nearly one and a half servings per day.
  • Middle school students exposed to highly developed programs were more likely than those in lesser- developed ones to feel positive about eating food served at school, like the cafeteria, think produce tastes better in season, and agree that eating choices can help or hurt the environment

The report is the result of a three-year study led by May Wang, now in the School of Public Health at UCLA. It was funded by the Chez Panisse Foundation, which co-created the SLI and funds the Edible Schoolyard. The full report can be downloaded here.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...