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.”

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!”

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.

State snatches home-made lunch, subs ‘nuggets’

A four-year-old’s home-packed lunch — turkey-and-cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice — was rejected by a state lunchbox inspector at a North Carolina elementary school, reports the Carolina Journal. Instead the preschooler ate three chicken nuggets from the school lunch – and nothing else. Mom was charged $1.25.

“What got me so mad is, number one, don’t tell my kid I’m not packing her lunch box properly,” the girl’s mother told CJ. “I pack her lunchbox according to what she eats. It always consists of a fruit. It never consists of a vegetable. She eats vegetables at home because I have to watch her because she doesn’t really care for vegetables.”

The state requires all lunches served in pre-K programs — including in-home day-care centers — to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, which call for one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables.

As it turns out, the lunch did meet USDA guidelines. “With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that’s the dairy,” said Jani Kozlowski, the fiscal and statutory policy manager for the division (of child development). The lunch has to include a fruit or vegetable, but not both, she said. Potato chips don’t de-nutritionize an otherwise health lunch.

So North Carolina hires lunchbox inspectors — at what salary I wonder? — to snatch turkey sandwiches from little girls. (OK, they didn’t take her home-packed lunch away, but she didn’t eat it because she’d been told  it was “not healthy,” according to her mother.)

The school principal says parents aren’t charged for the school lunch. The pre-K program is funded by the state for children from low-income families or those with special needs.

It’s a “non-troversy,” argues The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. The inspector was investigating the school’s compliance with the subsidized lunch program, which requires providing additional food to kids who don’t bring a healthy lunch.

A second mother has complained, saying her daughter was told not to eat her home-packed lunch (salami and cheese on a wheat bun and apple juice).  Instead, she ate chicken nuggets, sweet potato and milk. A letter sent to parents warns they may be charged if they miss a food group and their child receives supplemental food.

 

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.

School lunch

In No Lunch Left Behind (or scraped into the trash), Alice Waters and Katrina Heron argue school lunches should be prepared at the school from locally grown, organic food, when possible.

Schools here in Berkeley, for example, continue to use U.S.D.A. commodities, but cook food from scratch and have added organic fruits and vegetables from area farms.

. . . Washington needs to give schools enough money to cook and serve unprocessed foods that are produced without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. When possible, these foods should be locally grown.

How much would it cost to feed 30 million American schoolchildren a wholesome meal? It could be done for about $5 per child, or roughly $27 billion a year, plus a one-time investment in real kitchens.

That’s not healthier for students or the environment, responds Henry Miller, a former Food and Drug Administration official, in a letter to the New York Times.

. . . food safety, environmental preservation and energy conservation are not promoted by “foods that are produced without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.” Such foods are expensive and inefficient, because they use more land and water than if modern techniques were employed.

. . . Finally, “food safety” would likely become a far greater problem if thousands of schools were to begin to “cook food from scratch”: the vast majority of food poisonings result from the improper handling of food — in particular, from inadequately cooking chicken or permitting the juices from raw poultry to contaminate other foods.

Organic fruits and vegetables are a lot more expensive without being any healthier.  Kids will eat fruit if it’s not too pricey. (I’m not sure they’ll eat vegetables at any price.)