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.