Study Finds Children Will Eat High-Fiber Tortillas, Cookies

Study Finds Children Will Eat High-Fiber Tortillas, Cookies
Ayako Toma, a graduate student in Human Nutrition & Food Science department, monitors high-fiber cookie distribution.
Meg Apino eats a high-fiber tortilla burrito during the study at Neil Armstrong Elementary School.
Research assistants Toma and Kate Hwan weigh left over food.

If you make it – they will eat it. … Well, that may not be how the famous movie quote goes, but the sentiment is same in this case. A study led by Maria Botero Omary, an assistant professor in the Human Nutrition & Food Science department, discovered that children will eat food enriched with whole grains and soluble fiber.

In a society plagued by obesity – that is excellent news.

For 13 weeks during the winter and spring quarters last year, Botero Omary and research assistants Ayako Toma, Ana Sandoval, Anne Sung and Kate Hwan worked with elementary school children to see if they would eat whole-grain and fiber-enriched foods during their school lunch. These were not granola and oatmeal lunches.

Botero Omary's team served students at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in Diamond Bar bean and cheese burritos and chocolate chip cookies. Food the kids could sink their teeth into.

“Most Americans are failing to eat enough whole grains and fiber a day. I think the key, and especially for children, is to make foods they are familiar with better, by using healthier ingredients,” Botero Omary says.

On Monday, Jan. 21, the professor and her graduate student Toma returned to the Pomona Unified School District school to share the results and promote whole-grain consumption among children.

“I had a lot of fun just being around the children almost every Friday and seeing how they reacted to our burritos and cookies,” Toma says. “Having the opportunity to be able to organize and be involved in such a unique project gave me the chance to really see how the lunch system works within the district.”

During the first part of the study or baseline period, one day a week for three weeks, the elementary school students were given bean and cheese burritos and chocolate chip cookies made with refined flours, which were typical items from their menu. During the second half of the study or intervention period, the young pupils were given burritos and cookies enriched with whole-grain flours, such as whole barley and white whole wheat.     

By measuring plate waste, which is the amount of food the children did not eat, the study found that students were just as willing to eat the healthier alternative burritos and cookies. Children consumed 35 percent and 90 percent of these products, respectively, which were similar for both the baseline and intervention periods.

The study was funded by the Agricultural Research Initiative (ARI) and ConAgra Foods, which made the foods based on recipes developed at Cal Poly Pomona's food product development lab. The project also involved collaborative work with Len Marquart, an expert in whole grains who has conducted similar studies at the University of Minnesota.

“The students at Armstrong School enjoyed participating in the acceptance study,” says Neil Armstrong Elementary School Principal Patricia Savage, a Cal Poly Pomona alumna. “As part of the curriculum, they learn about the scientific method, so it was exciting for them to see an actual research study being conducted. For my part, as the school administrator, it was wonderful working with such a professional group.”   

PUSD nutritionist Heather Sloan, R.D., also enjoyed collaborating in the study.

“Working with the staff from Cal Poly Pomona was enlightening,” she says. “It was exciting to see how the initial blueprint of the study materialized into an actual project involving our students and staff.”

Additional Cal Poly Pomona students who worked on the project include Mon Prasopsunwattana, Sutida Chongcham, Sylvia Lee, Priscilla Antunez, Malena Walker, Diana Frost and Elyse Petersen.