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.

Brown bagging without the bag

For School Lunches, Hold the Plastic Sandwich Bag, writes the New York Times. Some schools are requiring waste-free lunches — everything must be edible, compostable or reusable — to cut down on garbage and promote “green” values.

Brown baggers are supposed to buy neoprene lunch bags; plastic containers are replacing plastic sandwich bags. Aluminum water bottles are in; plastic throwaways are out.

“Ziplocs are the biggest misstep,” said Julie Corbett, a mother in Oakland, Calif., whose two girls attend a school with an eco-friendly lunch policy. In school years past, she said, many a morning came unhinged when the girls were sent to school with disposable sandwich bags.

“That’s when the kids have meltdowns, because they don’t want to be shamed at school,” Ms. Corbett said. “It’s a big deal.”

At the very least, it’s a first-world problem.

Judith Wagner, a Whittier College education professor, is trying to persuade parents at the lab school to pack less wasteful lunches.

“Parents will say things like, ‘Well, I want her to have a choice, and if I put in a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and a ham sandwich, she has a choice,’ ” Professor Wagner said. “And each one comes in its own separate plastic bag.”

What comes next, she said, is a hard call. “Do you go back to the parents and say, ‘Gosh, can you rethink the plastic bags and all this food?’ Or do you talk to the children, and you make the children feel guilty because they’re throwing this all away?”

Forget about the plastic bags. Who packs a throwaway sandwich so little Emma can have a choice at noon instead of making up her mind at 7 am?

Sales of paper bags and sandwich bags are declining. Retailers offer a host of eco-friendly lunch containers.

At the Container Store, popular items this year include Japanese bento-box-style lunch boxes, Bobble water bottles with built-in filters, reusable cotton sandwich bags called snackTaxis, and PeopleTowels, machine-washable napkins.

In Oakland, Sally Corbett complains that plastic containers require cleaning and aren’t cheap, especially if they get lost.  For field trips, she packs sandwiches in waxpaper. “It’s still a no-no because you’re still having to throw that away, but it is biodegradable, it does compost, so you’re not as guilty,” she said.

It’s a religion, writes Andrew Stuttaford.


$3 million for not-very-matic pizza

Let’s make our own low-cost, healthy pizza, San Jose Unified officials thought in 2003. We’ll buy a $720,000 Pizzamatic, spend $2.2 million to build space for it in the central kitchen and then call Domino’s for pizza. It turns out that $3 million doesn’t buy a lot of  pizza, reports ABC News.

It’s called the Pizzamatic — an automated, industrial, all-in-one, pizza-making workhorse.

“It has a dough stamper, followed by a sauce machine,” said student nutrition consultant John Sixt.

It has a mammoth stainless-steel production line, like those the big pizza companies use. No other school district in the country has one.

It can produce up to 1,000 pizzas an hour. In the last two years, the Pizzamatic has produced 2,000 pizzas. Total.

“Sounds like the Pizzamatic isn’t very matic,” said parent Lisa Stapleton.

The pizza business is a lot harder than district officials had anticipated. In 2007,  San Jose Unified hired a consultant to get the machine to work. Sort of.

Sixt realized the Pizzamatic needed a full-time technician to keep it running and to keep all those electric eyes lined up. He also needed a crew to clean the machine each day. So he abandoned most of the Pizzamatic — all those gadgets — except for the oven and a couple conveyor belts.

Pizza production is now down to just one day a week. Kitchen workers assemble the pizzas by hand, starting with frozen crusts. The Pizzamatic sits polished and empty. It’s too complicated and temperamental for the staff to manage. They wait at the end of the assembly line to feed pizzas into the oven, one by one.

. . . The district also never figured out how to get the pizzas to schools all over the city before they got cold. They didn’t have enough trucks and drivers.

Over the past five years, San Jose Unified has spent $1.4 million to order out for pizza;  the central kitchen — using staff and the not-very-matic Pizzamatic — produces 100 pizzas each Friday for elementary school pizza parties.

However, Superintendent Don Iglesias dreams of  the day when San Jose Unified  will make a profit as the pizza supplier for all 33 school districts in the county.  Perhaps flying pigs can deliver the pies.

Bad management in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Public Schools waste $103 million a year, concludes a new study.  From the Journal-Sentinel:

The report mostly sidesteps the academic side of MPS, concentrating instead on business operations, from busing to lunch programs to purchasing practices to health insurance policies. It found waste in every area – inefficient payroll processing, overqualified maintenance teams, even pencil sharpeners that cost more than $100. The report also found more than five dozen central office jobs with six-figure salaries.

Milwaukee Public Schools is losing enrollment steadily, but spending hasn’t gone down.

Cappuccino costs Chicago schools $67,000

Chicago Public Schools bureaucrats spent $67,000 to buy 30 cappuccino/espresso machines that schools never requested or used, according to a report by the CPS Office of Inspector General. Three machines are in use, though not in culinary arts programs; one has vanished.  The rest never came out of the boxes.

. . . central office administrators split the order among 21 vocational schools to avoid competitive bidding required for purchases over $10,000. As a result CPS paid about $12,000 too much, according to Inspector General James Sullivan. “We were able to find the same machines cheaper online,” he said.

“We also look at it as a waste of money because the schools didn’t even know they were getting the equipment, schools didn’t know how to use the machines and weren’t prepared to implement them into the curriculum,” Sullivan said.

Several employees have been fired for the cappuccino caper.