Black bean burgers or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?

Students are refusing to eat the new healthier lunches at Los Angeles schools, reports the LA Times. The black bean burgers, tostada salad and pears on the menu at Van Nuys High is “nasty, rotty stuff,” says Mayra Gutierrez, who lunches on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and soda instead.

Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.

. . . Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students. Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they’re suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.

With fewer students buying lunch, the district’s meal planners have decided to bring back hamburgers and pizza (whole-wheat crust, low-fat cheese, low-sodium sauce) and eliminate unpopular dishes. No more lentil and brown rice cutlets or quinoa and black-eyed pea salads.The new meals were tested and approved by students in the summer, notes Megan McArdle in The Atlantic.

Andre Jahchan, a 16-year-old sophomore at Esteban Torres High School, said the food was “super good” at the summer tasting at L.A. Unified’s central kitchen. But on campus, he said, the chicken pozole was watery, the vegetable tamale was burned and hard, and noodles were soggy.

“It’s nasty, nasty,” said Andre, a member of InnerCity Struggle, an East L.A. nonprofit working to improve school lunch access and quality. “No matter how healthy it is, if it’s not appetizing, people won’t eat it.”

It’s a lesson from the universe, writes McArdle: Promising pilot programs don’t always scale up.

In the testing phase, when the program was small, they were probably working with a small group of schools which had been specially chosen to participate. They did not have a sprawling supply chain to manage. The kids and the workers knew they were being studied. And they were asking the kids which food they liked–a question which, social science researchers will tell you, is highly likely to elicit the answer that they liked something.

Furthermore, it’s easier to cook a palatable meal for a dozen testers than to cook mass amounts on a modest budget.

. . . the things that make us fat are, by and large, also the things that are palatable when mass-produced. Bleached grains and processed fats have a much longer shelf life than fresh produce, and can take a hell of a lot more handling. Salt and sugar are delicious, but they are also preservatives that, among other things, disguise the flavor of stale food.

In response to complaints that salads with an Oct. 7 “best served by” date were served on Oct. 17, a manager said lettuce wasn’t actually rotten. Then the district removed the dates because they were “confusing.”

Nobody eats 10-day old lettuce voluntarily, writes McArdle.  The old mentality — “don’t poison anybody” — may still dominate the cafeteria staff, she speculates. “There isn’t much difference between Chicken nuggets that won’t poison you, and Chicken nuggets at their absolute peak of freshness.  And the employees just sort of assumed that the same set of rules would work for lettuce.”

The bagel dog barks

A year of eating school lunches — and blogging their awfulness — made “Mrs. Q” famous. Now unveiled as Sarah Wu, a speech pathologist for Chicago Public Schools, the blogger is the author of a book, Fed Up With Lunch.

It all started, reports Slate’s XX Factor, when Wu forgot her lunch and stopped by the cafeteria to buy what the kids were eating:  a bagel dog, a Jell-O cup, six tater tots, and chocolate milk. Later, she wrote:

The bagel dog (a hot dog encased in soggy dough) came in a plastic package with the words “Barkin’ Bagel” written across the front. Tough on the outside and mushy on the inside, it was like no bagel I had ever tasted. The hot dog was bland, not juicy. The wimpy tater tots (which counted as that day’s federally mandated vegetable) were pale and wilted in my mouth. Instead of a piece of fruit, like the crunchy apple I would have packed if I’d had time that day, I was given a few cubes of pear suspended in bright red jello.

More than 90 percent of students at the elementary school qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch.  Wu vowed to buy the school lunch every day, photograph it and blog about it.

XX Factor writes:

The book turns out to chronicle not just bad lunches, but attempts at better lunches, and where they succeed and fail. Because Wu is eating her lunch daily, in the school, she can see what the kids like about the food, and what they don’t, and it’s not always what you’d expect. Some kids will eat six cookies, but then, that means five kids were willing to give up the cookie (generally a heavily processed sugar cookie with glitter sprinkles). Much of the food got thrown away not because kids didn’t like it, but because they didn’t have time, in a 20-minute period that included waiting in line, to eat it all.

At the start of the second year, the school cafeteria added salad and fresh broccoli, perhaps in response to the publicity.

F as in fat

One third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, according to a new report titled F as in Fat 2011.  The childhood pudge percentage has nearly tripled in the past 10 years.

Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia had childhood obesity rates above 20 percent; Illinois was the only non-Southern state above 20 percent (along with the District of Columbia). In 2003, when the last NSCH was conducted, only D.C., Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia were above 20 percent.

Nationwide, the report found that less than one-third of all children ages 6-17 engaged in at least 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity on a day-to-day basis.

Very obese children should be placed with foster families till they slim down, argue Harvard researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Bad idea, responds bioethicist Art Caplan. After all, 12 percent of U.S. kids are extremely obese.

Ludicrous,” responds Megan McArdle in The Atlantic.

. . . the foster system is already overstretched without adding obesity to catalogue of child abuse and neglect.  It’s also kind of creepy–the sort of thing that gives paternalism a very, very bad name.

Racist, adds Instapundit. African-American children are more likely to be obese.

Adults are getting fatter too.

And it’s not just Americans. As part of a British campaign against obesity, new health guidlines call for children under the age of five — including infants – to exercise daily for at least three hours.

Chicago school bans bag lunches

At a heavily Hispanic Chicago school, students must eat the school lunch or go hungry. Home-made lunches are banned at Little Village Academy, reports the Chicago Tribune. The principal says the school lunch is healthier.

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

“Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?” the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!”

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: “Do you see the situation?”

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Principal Elsa Carmona said. “It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.” Carmona created the policy six years ago after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch.

“Dozens” of Little Village students threw most of the school lunch in the garbage uneaten during the Trib’s visit.

Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.

Little Village students usually qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.  The full price is $2.25, which is more than most parents spend for a sandwich, carrot sticks and an apple. (I always put in a pickle. My daughter hated the school lunch.)

Update:  Should schools ban chocolate milk?  Seventy percent of milk consumed at school is flavored, reports the Washington Post.  Often children consume more sugar and calories than they’d get by drinking a Coke.  But milk consumption declines by 37 percent at schools that ban chocolate milk, says the National Dairy Council.

Nutritionists, meanwhile, have split between those who think chocoloate milk is worth the payoff in nutrients and those who don’t.

“Trying to get students to consume calcium by drinking chocolate milk is like getting them to eat apples by serving them apple pie,” said Ann Cooper, a leading advocate for healthy school lunches.

In my day, it was white milk or nothing.  Of course, we also got hideously sweet apple brown betty for dessert.

In St. Paul schools, the no-sweet life

St. Paul’s public schools will be “sweet-free zones” by the end of the school year, reports the Minnesota Star-Tribune. The ban includes “sweet, sticky, fat-laden [and] salty treats.”

Forty percent of St. Paul’s fourth-graders, most of whom are poor and minority, are obese, 11 percent higher than the national rate.

St. Paul administrators say they’re preparing for stricter rules that could soon be handed down through the $4.5 billion Child Nutrition Bill signed by President Obama last week.

The bill will disburse that federal money to school districts to provide healthier lunches to more students. In the next year, the federal government will write new rules that can determine what kinds of foods are allowed to be sold on school grounds, including in vending machines and at fundraisers.

Jim Tillotson, a Tufts professor of nutrition policy, said childhood obesity is a complex issue that schools can’t solve with “silver-bullet” snack rules. “Nobody has the money or the will to do the real work it’s going to take to get American kids to lose weight.”

Children aren’t enthusiastic either, reports the Star-Tribune.

“All my friends say, ‘This really sucks,’” said Misky Salad, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Chelsea Heights Elementary. “A lot of us feel it should be up to us to determine what we should do with our bodies.”

In addition to banning sweets brought from home, school cafeterias stopped serving second helpings and selling sweet deserts this year.

Nanny state says no to brownies, pizza

Uncle Sam could ban school bake sales and pizza days under a child nutrition bill on its way to President Barack Obama, reports AP.

The legislation, part of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to stem childhood obesity, provides more meals at school for needy kids, including dinner, and directs the Agriculture Department to write guidelines to make those meals healthier. The legislation would apply to all foods sold in schools during regular class hours, including in the cafeteria line, vending machines and at fundraisers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will have the power to decide when a food-based fundraiser is “infrequent” (OK) or “frequent” (not OK).

Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the bill is aimed at curbing daily or weekly bake sales or pizza fundraisers that become a regular part of kids’ lunchtime routines.

What so awful about a weekly slice of pizza? Obesity starts at home, not at school.

San Francisco may order ‘sad meals’

San Francisco may ban “happy meals” that come with a toy, unless the meal includes a serving of fruit and vegetables or meets the city’s nutritional requirements, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

San Francisco’s “sad meals” should include “creepy, insulting and/or humiliating promotional toys with any meal that fails to meet the city’s exacting nutritional guidelines,” writes Zombie on Pajamas Media.

* Circular metallic stickers featuring a frowny-face and the words “I’m a fatso!” or “Lard-butt.” Parents will be required to affix the stickers to their children’s foreheads during meals eaten in public.

* Wind-up toys which speak any of ten different phrases, including “You’re morbidly obese!”, “Sure, keep stuffing your fat little face,” and “You make me sick, you disgusting pig!” Children can choose either the Sinister Clown, Nagging Granny, or Scary Bully designs.

* Miniature flipbooks featuring full-color photos of actual surgical procedures taken during heart bypass operations and liposuction sessions.

* A new line of collectible figurines called Chubbies, with names such as Friendless Fritz, Diabetic Debbie, and Acne Ashly.

Very few children eat most of their meals at fast-food restaurants. Obesity begins at home. Parents have to stop buying junk food — often for themselves — and start pushing fruit and veg.

Do school lunches plump up poor kids?

Students who eat school lunches are more likely to be become obese, a new study shows. But students who eat school breakfasts are lighter. Eating both breakfast and lunch produces the slimmest children, reports Miller-McCune Online.

Low-income children, who qualify for free meals at school, are more prone to obesity. But the researchers think the lunches themselves are encouraging weight gain.

Daniel Millimet, an economist at SMU, theorizes that school breakfasts comply with federal nutrition guidelines, or come close. At lunch, students may buy extra items that aren’t subject to nutrition guidelines because kids are spending their own money.  Schools keep the profits from desserts or snacks students pay for themselves and can use the money as they see fit.

Too much TV hurts toddlers

TV-loving toddlers “are more likely by age 10 to be disengaged at school, get picked on by classmates, be overweight and eat an unhealthy diet,” concludes a study by researchers from the University of Montreal and the University of Michigan. From Time’s Wellness Blog:

. . .  each additional hour of TV that children watched at 29 months corresponded with a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% drop in math achievement, a 13% decrease in physical activity on weekends, a 10% increase in video-game playing and a 10% greater likelihood of getting teased, assaulted or insulted by classmates.

. . . On average, the study found, children were watching nearly 9 hours of TV per week at 29 months, and nearly 15 hours per week by 53 months. (Children with more educated mothers watched less; those from single-parent homes watched more.) The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 2 watch no TV at all; children older than 2 should get no more than 1 to 2 hours of “quality programming” each day. Although the TV-watching habits of children in the current study were within or close to the limits set by the AAP, the data suggest the children still suffered negative consequences.

Pediatricians tell parents not to put TV sets in their children’s bedrooms and to monitor what they watch.

Fat Santa

Santa Claus promotes obesity, complains Dr Nathan Grills, a professor at Monash University in Australia.  From The Telegraph:

(Grills) said the idea of a fat Father Christmas gorging on brandy and mince pies as he drove his sleigh around the world delivering presents was not the best way to promote a healthy and safe lifestyle among the young.

. . . Father Christmas could also potentially promote drunk-driving, argued Grills, referring to the tradition of leaving Santa Claus a brandy to wish him well on his travels.

At my husband’s family’s Christmas party, there was a move to draft the only new guest to play Santa for the little kids. But there weren’t enough pillows to make the costume fit 145-pound Seth, boyfriend of Susie the nutritionist. I wanted to tell the kids that Santa had acquired a personal nutritionist and taken off some weight, but this was vetoed.

Via The Corner’s Grinchwatch.