Most students aren’t ‘in poverty’

Fifty-one percent of public school students were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch in 2012-13, according to a Southern Education Foundation report.  That means low-income students are a majority, some have reported. 

Not really.

Qualifying for a subsidized lunch is a very unreliable measure of poverty. It both undercounts and overcounts the poor, explains Kevin Drum on Mother Jones. But, mostly, it overcounts. 

A family of four earning $44,000 a year, less than 185 percent of the poverty line, would qualify for the reduced-price lunch. That’s about 7 percent of the total. Forty-four percent get a free lunch because family income is under $31,000.

. . .  lots of poor kids, especially in the upper grades, don’t participate in school lunch programs even though they qualify. They just don’t want to eat in the cafeteria. So there’s always been a bit of undercounting of those eligible.

On the other hand, a new program called the Community Eligibility Provision, enacted a couple of years ago, allows certain school districts to offer free meals to everyone without any proof of income. Currently, more than 2,000 school districts enrolling 6 million students are eligible, and the number is growing quickly. For example, every single child in the Milwaukee Public School system is eligible.

A few school districts — typically those with affluent students — are dropping out of the school lunch program because students don’t want to pay for the new smaller, healthier meals.

Instead of fooling with inaccurate school lunch data, why not ask about family income directly (and parental education while we’re at it)?

Child poverty increased in the recession, but is now trending down, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution The National Center for Education Statistics estimates 21 percent of school-age children were in families living under the poverty line in 2012. Child Trends estimates 20 percent in 2013.

Pink cookie is banned — and in demand

Pink cookies will not be sold at Elyria, Ohio schools, reports the Chronicle-Telegram. The popular cookies  — named Best Cafeteria Cookie by Cleveland magazine in 2009 — have too much real butter and sour cream icing to meet federal guidelines.

A tray of pink cookies are seen at Elyria Schools.  CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

“We could modify the recipe by changing the size, using whole-grain flour or putting on less icing, but in doing that you are not making the same cookies,”  said Scott Teaman, food services director with Sodexo Inc., the district’s contracted food provider. “There is only one way to do the pink cookie, and to do it any other way would not do it justice.”

Forty years ago, Jean Gawlik, the former food production manager for Elyria Schools, used her mother’s recipe for the pink cookies.

You can’t change the recipe of the pink cookie,” said Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda. “It’s like eating diet potato chips. It’s not right.” Pink cookies are “one of those things that’s special to our community.”

The cookie ban has spurred demand, reports Reason’s Hit & Run. The bakers are taking special orders for “the perfect cookie.”  If the district can figure out how to ship the cookies, they now have customers around the country and in Canada asking for a box of pinks.

Kids won’t eat healthy school lunches

Making School Lunches Healthier Doesn’t Mean Kids Will Eat Them, writes Olga Khazan in The Atlantic.

Los Angeles Unified has been fighting childhood obesity for years: It ” outlawed sodas in schools in 2004, banned selling junk food on campus, and swapped the bulk of its canned and frozen produce for fresh,” writes Khazan. Still,  42 percent of students are overweight or obese.

In 2011, the district went after school lunches.

. .  .the new menus were the most austere measure yet, cutting kid-friendly favorites like chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and nachos. Instead, little Jayden and Mia would dine would dine on vegetarian curries, tostada salad, and fresh pears.

A student rebellion ensued—kids brought Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to school rather than much on quinoa salad—and L.A. Unified was forced to settle for a middle ground between Alice Waters and Ronald McDonald.

Under the new new menu, “Hamburgers will be offered daily,” the L.A. Times reported. “Some of the more exotic dishes are out, including the beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads. And the Caribbean meatball sauce will be changed to the more familiar teriyaki flavor.”

But students are still “beelining toward carbs and meat and avoiding fruits and vegetables,” according to a study in the April issue of Preventative Medicine. Examining middle schoolers lunch trays, researchers found that “32 percent of students did not take the fruit from the line, and almost 40 percent did not take the vegetables. Among those who did take a fruit or vegetable, 22 percent threw away the fruit and 31 percent tossed the vegetables without eating a single bite.”

 So in essence, just over half the students both took and ate some fruit, and about 42 percent both took and ate a vegetable.

Salads were the most common vegetable to be left untouched, while whole fruits, like apples and oranges, were far less popular than fruit cups or juices.

Food waste totals at least $100,000 a day, estimates the Times.

School districts are losing their paying lunchers because of new federal regulations, reports Reason. Congressional Republicans may give money-losing districts a one-year waiver of federal regulations, reports Reason.

Michelle Obama adamantly opposes any changes, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Other proposed changes include “scrapping a requirement that foods be 100% whole-grain by July 2014 and sticking with the current 50% target; holding to the newly enacted standard for sodium rather than a lower target scheduled to go into effect in a few years; and eliminating the requirement that students take a fruit or vegetable, regardless of whether they plan to eat it.”

One of my stepdaughter is a nutritionist who designs school lunches. The insanely complex guidelines must be met every day, she says. It’s not possible to go a little under in one category on Monday and make it up on Tuesday.

School lunch ‘hour’ is more like 15 minutes

There is no lunch hour in public schools any more, reports NPR. By the time they actually get their food, “kids are lucky to get more than 15 minutes to eat” and some get less.
Ground beef sandwhich  from CT

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 20 minutes for lunch. That’s time to eat, not time standing in line.

At Oakland High School in California, more than 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The lunch break is 40 minutes — but some kids get only 10 minutes of table time, says Jennifer LeBarre, the district’s nutrition services director.

In a new poll, 20 percent of parents said their elementary school child gets 15 minutes or less to eat.

Fed Up displays school lunch photos submitted by students across the country. The “ground beef sandwhich” in the photo comes from Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Connecticut.

Please, lunch lady, I want some more

Many Indiana schools are struggling to meet federal guidelines for school lunches, reports the Journal and Courier. Schools must serve less meat and grains and more fruit and vegetables. Students complain the portions are too small, but they’re not hungry enough to eat the vegetables.

School districts are losing money because more students are passing up the school lunch and brown bagging.

“Kids eat with their eyes. When they saw that smaller portion, that freaked them out,” said Jennifer Rice, food service director of Lebanon Community School Corp., where the popular Salisbury steak shrunk. “I’ve been in the school district forever, and they all know me and they’ll go, ‘Mrs. Rice, we are hungry.’”

“They’re teaching our kids with this meal pattern that it’s OK to throw away,” said Lori Shofroth, Tippecanoe School Corp.’s food service director. “We did a waste study on three different schools, and there was a huge amount of waste.”

Amy Anderson, food service director for Carmel Clay Schools, said the rules have turned her into “a food cop.” Her district lost $300,000 on school lunches last year because of a drop in full-price students buying lunch. “Our kids can just wait and just hop in their BMWs and go to McDonald’s, which they’re rebuilding, making it bigger,” said Anderson.

In rural Elmwood, farm kids rejected the black bean salsa, says food service director Jay Turner. He offered to serve garbanzo beans instead. “And they gave me this look like, ‘No,’” Turner said.

Some districts are dropping out of the school lunch program or looking for ways to recoup losses as a result of the new regulations, reports the Washington Times.

My stepdaughter, who’s a nutritionist for a Boston nonprofit, has been designing school lunches. Meeting the guidelines is difficult, time-consuming and so costly her boss will not to renew the contract.

Update: Some British schools may require students to eat school meals instead of brown bagging or going out for lunch. Currently 57 percent bring their own lunch or buy something outside school. “The Government said these meals often contain too many sweets, fizzy drinks and fatty foods and the money would be better spent on healthy school lunches,” reports Sky News.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said, “More children eating school lunches and fewer having packed lunches” would result in “more children being healthier and more energetic throughout the day, and the nation, as a result, benefiting from improved brain power.”

20% of schools serve high-poverty kids

One in five public schools was a high-poverty school in 2011, according to the U.S. Education Department. That means 75 percent or more of students qualify for a subsidized lunch. The number of high-poverty schools increased by 60 percent, according to Hechinger Report‘s Education By The Numbers. In 2000, only one in eight public schools was deemed to be high poverty.

According to this chart, a family of four could earn up to $42,643 to qualify for a reduced-price lunch and up to $29,965 for a free lunch.

It’s way past time to measure poverty directly and throw in other socioeconomic factors, such as parents’ education. The school lunch figures are skewed at the high school level: Many kids don’t ask for a free lunch, even if they’re eligible.

School cafeteria goes all-vegetarian

A Queens public school is serving all-vegetarian menus for breakfast and lunch, reports Metro. PS 244, the Active Learning Elementary School, now serves “black beans, red roasted potatoes, falafel and brown rice for lunch.”

Principal Robert Groff said the school is trying to encourage healthy lifestyles. “It is about educating their mind, body and character all together.”

What about separation of idiots and state? asks Stephen Kruiser on PJ Tatler.

This isn’t about children’s health, it’s about indoctrination in a fringe lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with vegetarian options for children whose parents have chosen to raise them that way.

. . . This is a decision that is one for the parents to make, not for school administrators who seek to undermine the role of parents, which is what’s really going on here.

My nutritionist stepdaughter designs school lunches for a nonprofit. She says it’s hard to comply with very detailed federal guidelines, use affordable ingredients and produce a lunch kids will eat.

New York Mayor Bloomberg was refused a second slice of pizza at a New York City restaurant in a protest against  his ban on large sodas, reports the Daily Currant. It’s a satire site, but some readers thought it was for real. It’s hard to tell the difference these days.

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.

Swedes crack down on good school food

At a school in Sweden, the cook has been told to stop baking fresh bread and serving a 15-vegetable buffet because her food is too good, reports The Local.

The municipality has ordered (Annika) Eriksson to bring it down a notch since other schools do not receive the same calibre of food – and that is “unfair.”

Moreover, the food on offer at the school doesn’t comply with the directives of a local healthy diet scheme which was initiated in 2011, according to the municipality.

“A menu has been developed… It is about making a collective effort on quality, to improve school meals overall and to try and ensure everyone does the same,” Katarina Lindberg, head of the unit responsible for the school diet scheme, told the local Falukuriren newspaper.

. . . “It has been claimed that we have been spoiled and that it’s about time we do as everyone else,” Eriksson said.

Since students’ tastes differ, they should have a choice of vegetables and  proteins such as chicken, shrimp, or beef patties, she argued. However, the school will cut the selection of vegetables in half and replace Eriksson’s handmade loafs with store-bought bread. Lowering the quality won’t save any money, Eriksson said.

Meanwhile, some U.S. districts are considering cafeteria “trash cams” to monitor how much food students are throwing away. Under new rules, students who take the school meal must take fruit and vegetables, but can’t be forced to eat them.

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!”