More schools serve breakfast

More schools are serving breakfast, reports Education Week. In many large school districts, more than 90 percent of schools that serve a federally subsidized lunch also serve a subsidized breakfast, according to a Food Research and Action Center report. More than half of low-income students who ate the school lunch also ate the school breakfast.

Some schools serve breakfast in the classroom, so students don’t have to arrive early. That can be messy, cut into teaching time and encourage kids to eat at home and at school. Other schools offer a “grab ‘n’ go” breakfast.

More meat, grains in school lunches

Complaints about smaller school lunches have borne fruit, so to speak. The Agriculture Department will allow more meat and grains in school lunches.

Students across the country say small portions aren’t enough, even with unlimited vegetables. In Cedar Falls, Iowa, a student tells AP he’d eat salad if he could get enough salad dressing. “There was one girl who used to bring a glass jar of dressing every day,” said sophomore Caleb Iehl. Ketchup also is restricted.

Jon Stewart: Eat your *#!*#! lunch!

Jon Stewart on school lunch protests: “News flash! Extry extry! School lunches suck!” And students are still hungry after they eat it. “So you hate the food and you want more of it.” (That’s an old Borscht Belt joke.)

Under the new rules, designed to fight childhood obesity, students can get seconds of fruits and vegetables, but they won’t even eat the first (mandatory) helping. Cafeteria garbage cans are twice as full. “Hmm, now I am obviously not an nutritionist or an educator,” Stewart says, “but I think if these kids are hungry, I guess my solution would be…eat your motherf**kin lunch!”

Let them eat snacks

Let them eat snacks says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in response to student protests against lower-calorie, low-protein school lunches.

School lunch trays are a bit lighter this year after Congress-approved calorie limits on school lunches went into effect in August. The new regulations, which were championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity, have inspired protests and even a video parody from students who claim the reduced lunches are making them go hungry.

. . . Vilsack said the Obama Administration is working with school districts to create snack programs and encouraging parents to pack extra food for their active students to munch on before football practice or band rehearsal.

A new federal rule limits calories for school lunches — 650 calories in elementary school, 700 in middle school and 850 in high school. Cafeterias must serve twice as many fruits and vegetables while limiting proteins and carbohydrates. Students must take the fruit and vegetables, though they can’t be required to eat them.

For an average high school student, that means two baked fish nuggets, a cup of vegetables, half a cup of mashed potatoes, one whole grain roll and 8 ounces of fat free milk . . .

Linda O’Connor, an English teacher at Wallace County High School in Kansas, wrote the “We Are Hungry” parody after a colleague, Brenda Kirkham, posted a photo of her school lunch on Facebook, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

The lunch included one cheese-stuffed bread stick, a small dollop of marinara sauce, three apple slices and some raw spinach. . . . “I asked why the sauce had no meat and I was informed that due to the breadsticks containing cheese, the meat would put us over the guidelines for protein,” Kirkham wrote.

Wallace County students often do farm chores in the morning before school and play sports after school, O’Connor said. Two ounces of meat per day isn’t enough.

Last year, students got six chicken nuggets for lunch; this year, says Callahan Grund, a 16-year-old football player who’s featured in the video. This year, students got three chicken nuggets.

Students in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Kansas have organized school lunch boycotts, packing their own brown bags.

The 850-calorie limit seems high enough, even if students don’t eat the fruit and veg. Most families can afford to send an apple or an after-school PB&J for calorie-burning athletes. I wonder about limiting protein.

Breakfast at school — and at home

When all students get a free breakfast in their classrooms, instead of a cafeteria breakfast for low-income students who arrive early, they’re likely to eat it, reports the New York Times. In Newark, the number of students eating breakfast in school has tripled since the switch from cafeteria to classroom breakfasts. But 21 percent eat breakfast at home and at school, says the New York City health department. Breakfast in the Classroom is on hold in the Big Apple because of fears “all those classroom Cheerios and cheese sticks could lead to more obesity.”

Outside Public School 180 in Harlem, one of the schools that offer breakfast in classrooms, several parents expressed surprise on Thursday that their children might be eating two morning meals. Abraham El Bey said his son, Noah, 8, usually eats breakfast at home, but Noah immediately volunteered that he ate breakfast at school, too.

. . . Anne Morrison, whose son, Jude, 5, attends the same school, said she had adjusted what she fed him at home, knowing he would eat again at school.

“At school, it’s usually a muffin, a cheese stick and juice,” she said, adding, “I’m not so happy about the juice.”

About 40 percent of elementary and middle school students in New York City are overweight or obese, according to Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services.

The city is under pressure to add more high-poverty schools to the Breakfast in the Classroom program.

Obesity starts at home, not at school

While childhood obesity tripled in the U.S. between the early 1970s and the late 2000s, weight gain doesn’t correlate to junk food sold in schools, concludes a study in the January issue of Sociology of Education. Kids do most of their eating — and overeating — outside of school, according to the  study, which followed children from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We kept looking for a connection that just wasn’t there,” said Jennifer Van Hook, a Penn State sociology and demography professor, who was the lead author.

While 59.2 percent of fifth graders and 86.3 percent of eighth graders attended schools that sold junk food, a significant increase, the percentage of students who were overweight or obese decreased from 39.1 percent of  fifth grade students to 35.4 percent of eighth graders.

Kids don’t have much time to eat at school, Van Hook said.  At home, they can “eat endlessly.”

Bad eating habits start very early, she added.

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.