Students in Alabama are balking at the school lunches now being offered as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed in 2010.
Last week, the National School Boards Association, joined by the National School Lunch Week, released the results of a survey they conducted showing nearly 84% of school districts nationwide exhibited plate waste, while almost 82% reported added costs and 77% said there had been a plunge in the number of students eating the lunches.
In Huntsville, Alabama, Joey Vaughn, the Child Nutrition Program director for the city schools, said, “We can offer dessert, but you end up where you can’t offer it because then you can’t meet the calorie limit. Basically, school food is now hospital food.” Marty Tatara, the Child Nutrition Program director for the Madison City Schools, said that lunch program membership has “steadily declined” by roughly 20% since 2007. Tatara added, “I’ve seen them walk straight to the trash can.” Vaughn said waste has grown, asserting, “I respect and support fighting childhood obesity, but I don’t support calorie restrictions.”
This year federal guidelines are more harsh than ever before, requiring all whole grains as well as a whole cup of fruit with breakfast, with additional vegetables as well. K-8 students’ breakfasts must measure between 400 and 500 calories; lunch 600-650 calories. The saturated fat content must always be 10% or less. In high schools, breakfast must measure between 450 and 600 calories, lunch; 750-850.
Students must be offered three and a half cups (for K-8 students) to five cups (high school students) of vegetables every week.
Vaughn would prefer some flexibility, but admitted he doesn’t “see it happening any time soon.” Roughly 75% of officials surveyed by the National School Boards Association want more federal funding, and to help districts comply with the new standards 60% said they want more room to “improve their ability to provide good nutrition without harm to instruction, personnel, and other school district operations.”
Nationwide, school districts are hiking the price of unsubsidized meals; some have even had to use their financial reserves and other district funds or cut staff because of the increased costs of school lunches.
Tatara said in Madison, feeding students has increased 58 cents per lunch. Vaughn said his school district is okay financially, but only because of extra meal programs. He allowed, “If we were serving the same number of meals, we would have taken a big hit.”
Vaughn said lunchroom workers have improved at estimating how many students will eat lunch, and thus cook the right amount of food, adding, “Managers learn what they will like and what they will not like. It doesn’t mean that food’s not getting thrown away; there’s just not as much to throw away.”
Tatara said, “I find that the kids are pretty receptive to the idea of eating healthy. Whether that translates to sales is another story. They vote with their lunchbox.”