Lunch goes organic, non-GMO

Only organic, non-GMO lunches will be served at the two schools in the Sausalito Marin City School District, north of San Francisco. The district contracts with Turning Green, a nonprofit, to provide the meals with the help of The Conscious Kitchen.

The Conscious Kitchen prepares a lunch at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy. (Photo: Turning Green)

The Conscious Kitchen prepares a lunch at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy. (Photo: Turning Green)

Turning Green claims schools have seen a drop in disciplinary problems and truancy since the schools piloted the organic meals.

I ate a Turning Green lunch once at a conference. It was better than the average cafeteria food — a low bar — and fresher. Lots of greens. But I missed my GMOs.

Healthy lunches = more veg in the trash

Before/after photos of lunch trays show vegetables often end up in the trash.

Federal school lunch rules require that children take a fruit or vegetable. Kids aren’t eating healthier, according to a new study. reports the Washington Post. Most of the healthy food ends up in the trash.

“The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption. The answer was clearly no,” Sarah Amin, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.

This salad, featuring raw green pepper and croutons, is supposed to contain chicken.

This salad, featuring raw green pepper and croutons, is supposed to contain chicken. Photo: Hans Pennink, AP

Children took 29 percent more fruit and vegetables after the rule went into effect, the study found. But their consumption of fruits and vegetables declined by 13 percent.

Food waste went up. In many cases, the researchers wrote, “children did not even taste the [fruits and vegetables] they chose at lunch.”

Last year, a Harvard study using a different methodology found students ate the same amount of fruit, but 16.2 percent more vegetables. However, students threw out 40 percent of fruit on their trays and 60 to 75 percent of vegetables.

In summer, the cafeteria comes to the kids

Murfreesboro City Schools launched the "CHOW Bus" in 2014 and added a second bus this year.
The CHOW bus serves two meals a day to children in Murfreesboro, Tennessee over the summer.

When school is out for the summer, the cafeteria comes to the kids in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, reports Blake Farmer on Nashville Public Radio. The district’s CHOW bus (Combating Hunger on Wheels Bus) rolls into low-income neighborhoods to provide a free breakfast and lunch funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gunner Fischer, 3, started his day with chocolate cookies. When the bus arrives, he’ll get Lucky Charms and chocolate milk — considered a nutritious breakfast by the USDA —  in the air-conditioned interior, where some seats have been replaced by tables.

“My mom thinks it’s great. We don’t have to buy cereal,” says Patience Cordin, Gunner’s older sister, who’s looking after Gunner and their other siblings. Their mom is still asleep after working the night shift at the nearby Nissan plant.

. . . Anyone under age 18 is invited for breakfast and for lunch, no questions asked.

The bus will return with turkey sandwiches just after noon.

Nearly $500 million was spent nationwide on summer breakfasts and lunches, and the USDA hopes to increase that by providing 200 million meals this summer.

Most districts serve meals at the schools, but some children live too far away, says Sandy Sheele, nutrition director for Murfreesboro City Schools.

Districts around the country are experimenting with meals-on-wheels, reports Farmer. That includes Mobile, Ala.San Marcos, Texas, and several counties in Florida.

Who’s poor? School lunch data is ‘muddy’

Schools should gather accurate data on the income, education and English fluency of students’ parents, instead of using eligibility for a free or reduced-price school lunch as a not-very-accurate measure of family poverty. 

School lunch data’s validity has been “diluted” even further now that many schools have been allowed to serve a free lunch to all students, regardless of their family income, reports Jill Barshay in U.S. News.

More than half of public school students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch because their parents’ earnings are no more than 85 percent above the federal poverty line. For a single mother with two children, that’s up to $36,612 per year.

Lunch eligibility undercounts poverty, especially at the high school level, because some students won’t eat school food. But it overestimates poverty too. Lunch eligibility is “rising far faster than the actual poverty rate,” writes Barshay.

Between 2000-01 and 2012-13, the percentage of children eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch increased from 38 percent to 50 percent, an increase of 12 percentage points. In contrast, the percentage of public school children who lived in poverty increased from 17 percent to 23 percent, an increase of 6 percentage points.

Billions of dollars in federal aid for disadvantaged students and philanthropic grants are tied to lunch statistics, writes Barshay. Why not get accurate data?

Would you eat this school lunch?

A student's mother took this picture of a lunch served at James Hurst Elementary School in Portsmouth Tuesday, April 14, 2015.Would you eat this school lunch? A mother took this picture at a Portsmouth, Virginia elementary school.

It may look like a giant snail oozing toward the canned corn, but it’s supposed to be a “spicy cajun fish” fillet topped with a bun.

Cafeteria workers will be trained on meal “presentation,” says the district’s food services manager.

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.”