Campus News

Foods and nutrition assistant professor shares more about healthier, tastier school meals

Caree Cotwright, an assistant professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ nutritional sciences department, was recently quoted in a Yahoo! News article about potential changes to school lunches.

One of the ways school lunches could improve following the COVID-19 pandemic is providing healthier, more delicious foods.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, schools have modified their lunches, like using new delivery methods and meal packages to halt coronavirus spread. Schools need more federal funding and support, too, Cotwright said.

“School lunch is more widely consumed by kids from low-income families and communities of color than their counterparts,” she said. “When students return to school, many are eating lunch in their classroom or outside rather than in the cafeteria. In my assessment, eating in a learning atmosphere offers a unique opportunity to bolster nutrition education programs and encourage students to taste new entrees that may be packaged in unfamiliar ways.”

An example Cotwright provided involves a program that uses online taste tests to make school lunches more appetizing to students. Parents pick up a week’s worth of school meals that can then be heated and served. Then, students join the school chef in a live Zoom session to learn about putting together a simple school lunch, like cheesy chicken tacos with salsa. Afterward, students taste and rate the recipe, and their comments and taste-test results are posted for other students to view.

“My research has shown that making school meals more nutritious and delicious requires engaging school nutrition directors, teachers, parents and students,” Cotwright said. “These partnerships can encourage students to try new recipes and better understand how food and the environment are linked which may result in less food waste.”

The article continued to detail more improvements schools could make, including having more spacious, quieter cafeterias and more food justice efforts.