School lunches are getting healthier, with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, thanks in part to the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and initiatives spearheaded by government and non-governmental organizations across the country. But what about snacks that parents send in with their kids? It’s often the same old unhealthy story.
Sean Cash discovered this at his own child’s school, where parents donate snacks to their children’s classrooms. “Typically, someone would go shopping at a food warehouse club and might buy an extra container or two of salty snacks,” said Cash, Bergstrom Foundation Professor in Global Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. He wanted to find a way to improve the quality of those snack donations.
While chips and cookies can sit on a classroom shelf all week, fruits and veggies require more care. This led Cash to wonder if adding refrigerators to the classrooms might help. “The reason to think about refrigeration is that it’s at the classroom level, and it seemed like a relatively low-cost way of improving snack quality,” he said. He added that modest measures, like providing small refrigerators in classrooms, are more likely to be sustainable. To test his idea, Cash and his research team randomly assigned fifteen classrooms in a Madison, Wisconsin, elementary school to receive mini-refrigerators for parent-donated snack storage. They asked teachers to record detailed notes about the snack donations received, and compared classrooms with and without refrigerators.