Students (and parents) aren’t happy about new school lunch guidelinesTime was when students would complain about their school lunches because they didn’t like the taste. Now, some students are complaining about their school lunches because they aren’t big enough.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
Time was when students would complain about their school lunches because they didn’t like the taste. Now, some students are complaining about their school lunches because they aren’t big enough.
The federal government’s “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” reduced the number of calories allowable in school lunches, and the new rules have drawn the attention of parents and some hungry students alike.
“The reaction from my group of friends is that the lunches aren’t big enough,” student representative Gabe Berg told the Cloquet School Board at its Monday night meeting.
Board member Duane Buytaert noted that he has received complaints as well.
“I’m hearing from parents who are saying they’re tired of having to feed their kids twice,” he said.
The new rules, implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Institute of Medicine, are intended to combat childhood obesity. Students in grades K-5 are limited to between 550 and 650 calories in their lunches; grades 6-8 get between 600 and 700 calories; and grades 9-12 have a range of 750-850 calories per day. Protein and carbohydrate limitations of 10-12 ounces per week are also in place.
According to the school district’s Director of Food Service, those limits mean smaller portions.
“It’s a whole program,” director Beth Dohnansky said. “It’s not only calories, it’s the portion size. We’ve upped our fruits and vegetables, and we have to offer at least 50 percent whole grain, lowered sodium and zero transfats.”
Lunches must contain a protein, a fruit, a vegetable, a milk product and a grain.
“With this set of guidelines we have minimums and maximums,” Dohnansky said. “In the old program we had minimum nutritional requirements we had to meet, but not maximums. Now we have maximums, and that’s our challenge.”
It’s the minimums that concern some students, though.
“The complaint is that the size [of portions] has drastically changed,” CHS senior and student school board representative Will Riihiluoma said. “Lots of people have said that buns are smaller and burgers are smaller. Everybody’s talking about it.”
“The kids have noticed,” she said. “Some of our buns are smaller, and we’ve cut the size of beef patties. The elementary schools notice it the most – it’s tight, the portion sizes are tight. We’re also a super-sized society, and now we are on the right size. We try to mix things up so it’s different and the kids get to try different things.”
Some of those different things are fruits, vegetables and salads, which are made easily available to students. Riihiluoma likes them but notes that some other students don’t.
“I pile on the extra, like salads,” he said. “The entrees are smaller, but people are disgruntled because they like the main food and want more of it. I’ve seen a lot of people throw away the salad or banana, complain about the [size of the] entree and throw the fruit away. It’s about 50-50, but nothing I have heard has been positive about the change.”
“You don’t see upperclassmen in the lunch line,” another CHS senior said. “Juniors and seniors can leave the school over lunch with a parent’s permission and a lot of them go buy lunch. They go anywhere but the school lunch line.”
The issue has garnered national attention. One group posted a YouTube video featuring a parody of Fun’s song “We Are Young.” Called “We Are Hungry,” the video had gained 955,000 views as of this week.
That video raised the issue of active students getting enough to eat to maintain their performance levels in extracurricular activities on an 850-calorie lunch. In the video, athletes were shown falling and stumbling through practices to parody the effect of the new regulations.
“That’s an issue,” Cloquet Schools Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said of students who need more calories. “What the one-third daily requirement is for a 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound lineman may be different than for a student who isn’t an athlete. But you have to follow the rules.”
The calorie issue also has a potential effect on students in the free and reduced lunch program, some of whom may rely on that meal to meet a significant portion of their daily needs.
“The national school lunch program was set up to meet one-third of the daily [nutritional] requirements,” Dohnansky said. “If a student needs more calories, it’s recommended that he or she bring a snack.”
“We do a lot of scratch cooking here,” Dohnansky added. “We’ve also been phasing in whole grains for the last two or three years. We know that one in three children is at risk of obesity so it’s being done with good intentions. But it is a change. We want to offer variety so the kids aren’t bored.”
Dohnansky notes that despite the reaction, the new regulations aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“The rules are revised often,” she said, “but the program is here to stay.”