DESIGN, IMPLEMENTATION, AND EVALUATION OF A MINDFULNESS FOCUSED NUTRITION PROMOTION PROGRAM TO BALANCE USDA SCHOOL NUTRITION GOALS WITH FOOD WASTE REDUCTION IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS
Schachtner-Appel, Amy Elizabeth
MetadataShow full item record
Healthy school meals offer numerous benefits for elementary school students, but low produce intake and high rates of waste prevent students from experiencing these benefits. This research aimed to create a mindful and sustainable eating intervention to encourage reduced waste and increased produce intake during lunch. The study was conducted using a mixed-methods triangulation approach for formative research, creation of a behavioral model to design a theory based intervention, and pilot test of the resulting program using a quasi-experimental controlled design. Formative findings, gathered from 50 3rd-5th grade focus group participants, 15 in-depth interviews with school staff, and 9 cafeteria observations supported the use of social cognitive theory (SCT) to explain eating behaviors and emphasized the importance of involving student leaders and creating environmental reinforcements. Pilot intervention approaches included delivery of an education curriculum, dissemination of messages by student leaders, cafeteria environment changes, and creation of a food recovery program. Measurements included observation of kindergarten – 5th grade lunches at baseline and follow-up (n = 162) to estimate foods selected, consumed, and wasted, survey of 3rd – 5th grade students at baseline and follow-up (n = 169) to measure psychosocial changes related to mindful and sustainable eating, and periodic food waste audits (n = 8) to monitor school-level plate waste. Baseline results showed students consumed only 36-42% of vegetables selected and 64-67% of fruit selected. At follow-up, intervention students selected more produce than controls (1.09 vs. 0.64 servings of vegetables; 1.32 vs. 1.06 servings of fruit). Similarly, they consumed more produce (0.51 vs. 0.33 servings of vegetables; 0.94 vs. 0.70 servings of fruit) than controls. Intervention students trended toward reduced vegetable waste while maintaining selection, whereas controls decreased selection substantially. Intervention students experienced significant increase in self-efficacy to base lunch choices on body cues. Higher produce consumption and lower waste were predicted by improved intentions to eat healthfully. Overall, the program successfully improved intake and trends indicate potential to reduce waste. Findings support expansion of the program, with potential to improve nutritional status of students and reduce the environmental impact of school meals.