Taking Photos of What Kids Eat: Texas Schools’ Go Blogger ?

by bhealthy on May 20, 2011

My current field is nutrition education (specifically with children/schools) so anything that involves schools, nutrition, education, and childhood obesity/health is on my radar.

“Child nutrition programs”

  • National School Lunch
  • School Breakfast Program
  • After School Snack program
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program

These are programs that reimburse a school for the food they supply. They recommend “nutrition education” to coincide with these “feeding” programs, however, there is no set education component to their programs that coincides. Programs like SNAP-Ed, EFNEP and the others mentioned in this post, all offer educationAND sometimes even a small tasting of food to enhance the curriculum and experience.Most people care about the food in schools enough to want better food BUT are not really aware of the lack of education that could be working alongside the feeding programs to kill two birds with one stone ( nutrition behavior AND knowledge to make better decisions).

I cannot tell you how geeked out I was to see the latest IFT newsletter in my inbox! An article from the Huffington Post  essentially combines two of my passions (school nutrition and blogging) into one!

In San Antonio, Texas, 5 elementary schools will be taking part in a $2 million research project that will photograph students’ lunch trays twice- once before they sit down to eat and again of the leftovers.

How interesting is that?

As a Food Bloggers , food photography is essential and often coincides with informal nutrition analysis ( you can see the colors, or the grease on the plate, the general portion size, etc). However- I have yet to hear of a software that can analyze (accurately) from the photograph of the nutrient content of the photograph!

I remember thinking of such software in 2008 after I started blogging and took a Medical Nutrition Therapy test. Our professor had us stare at photo of a plate of BBQ and analyze it to our best knowledge. We were all slightly off though some were close. What was difficult was not the nutrient analysis- rather- the amount based on a photo. A 1/4 cup appears very different in a photo than it does in real life.

This $2 million computer program analyzes photos down to how many ounces are on each plate and calculates the number of calories each student ate after analysis of the second photo (when the student returns their plate). The project is funded by a grant through the USDA, and is the first of its kind in the nation. The cameras will not photograph students, only the trays and are about the size of pocket flashlights. Each lunch tray is bar coded, that way the camera can identify each plate when filled up and after it is returned.

Parents will receive the data for their children, hoping that parents will take an interest NOW in what their children are choosing/eating at school.

One part of me says, wow, that is so awesome! The larger part of me says, there are so many statistical errors that would be involved. Don’t get me wrong, I think its fantastic in theory.

Does anyone else see the flaws ?

Who ever traded their jello for a brownie ?

How about their cookie for a juice box ?

Just because it is no longer on that child’s plate does NOT mean that child actually consumed it!

The issue that seems so astounding, evident in Jamie Oliver’s show Food Revolution, is that parents from these schools just seem to not show up or care. I think this is one step in making them aware, so bravo for that.

Will parents actually read about what their child ate at lunch ?

Why spend $2 million in fancy software that would not necessarily be accurate?

How about spending the money to combine existing programs (School Lunch) with an education compononet (SNAP-Ed) to properly teach youth how to choose smart with the foods they are given to eat?


Other Articles you might like:

America’s Best School Lunches

Who’s Responsible for Kids’ Nutrition?

Child Obesity a National Security Threat

Fixing School Lunches, Lunch Line

Ohio School Recipe Competition

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • http://mealsformiles.wordpress.com/ Kelly

     that’s really interesting! I agree with you in that it seems kind of weird to spend so much money on something that isn’t totally accurate, but perhaps it’s a step in the right direction? Maybe some kind of new, exciting, high tech project is what people need to start paying attention to what kids are eating. Maybe the results will at least show some interesting findings, and spark more accurate programs/studies/analysis afterwards!

  • http://www.beinghealthier.com Laural (bhealthier)

    Kelly- I agree completely! I wish sometimes money could be spent more wisely
    BUT I totally think it is a step in the right direction! It is money being
    put towards helping youth, decreasing childhood obesity or at least trying
    to find out what’s going on!

    At least people are noticing what the unhealthy trends are and finding
    innovative ways to explore solutions! I hope it does spark more research and
    more analysis!

  • http://three-cookies.blogspot.com/ Three-Cookies

    For sure the program will not be 100% spot on but perhaps within a reasonable margin of error. People/kids in many countries have been eating well without such technology. Whether this technology makes an improvement in the US is yet to be seen. Maybe it would. At the very least it has improved the financial situation of the company(s) behind it:)

    There could be an indirect positive effect. Taking photos and later looking at it makes us more conscious of what we eat. 

  • http://swankydietitian.com Kristen (swanky dietitian)

    I love the idea of taking pics of the kids school lunches. I know there was a blog I heard about a while back where a teacher did this. 
    I was always the nerd who packed a lunch. :)  My mom did throw in goodies for me, but for the  most part it was healthy.  
    Working with kids, I often hear the kids trading their snacks or even getting seconds of the school lunches. 

  • http://www.givelovecreatehappiness.com/blog.html Wendy Irene

    I wish schools had the budget to hire chefs with a real passion for healthy cooking to make school meals!  I hope you have a wonderful weekend! 

  • http://www.thebroccolihut.com Broccolihut

    Very interesting project, but as you mentioned there is a lot of potential for error in that system.
    What part of MNT made you think of the food photography for nutritional assessment? 

  • http://profiles.google.com/webessay2 web essay

    Great post, you have pointed out some superb details , I tell my friends this is a very fantastic website thanks
     Custom term paper

  • eatingRD

     I agree with you!  It seems really neat and tech savvy, but seems the money could be spent in more practical ways to actually facilitate behavior change and improve school lunch options in general?

  • Parsley Sage

    Very interesting post!  I’m not sure if I totally disagree with them going ahead with the program.  I know $2 million is a lot of money for regular folks but its a drop in the hat for government and if this is a way for them to at least START getting parents engaged that’s a good thing for me.  Keep us posted!

  • http://www.beinghealthier.com/2011/05/25/sticking-with-it/ Sticking with it! « Being Healthier

    [...] morning I posted about Calorie Camera’s for School Nutrition… I loved everyone’s thoughts about it and will definitely keep you posted on news from [...]