N ew rules intended to make school meals healthier are having an unintended consequence: Hungry students and full garbage cans.
“I can tell you that in regards to serving wheat breads, we are seeing lots of bread going into the garbage. They aren’t even taking the wrapper off,” said Joanne Warner, food service manager for Granville Central School district. “There’s lots of fruit in the garbage too; it’s sad.”
Students in local lunch lines and are reacting unfavorably to new U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards that on Wednesday had students at Whitehall High School selecting at least one piece of fruit to eat with their soft tacos, brown rice, tossed salad, and refried beans, a far cry from the double hot dog days students enjoyed a year ago.
The new standards are part of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids-Act, which was championed by first lady Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign and was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2010. The new requirements raise the standards of school lunches for the first time in 15 years.
Under the guidelines, schools must provide at least one fruit and vegetable every day at lunch, provide at least 50 percent whole grain foods, slash sodium levels in half by 2022, eliminate trans fats, and establish maximum calorie limits.
Anita Brown, who has been the school lunch manager for the Whitehall school district for 12 years, said she’s received a significant amount of complaints.
“The kids say they are getting significantly less food and the older kids are complaining they are still hungry.”
The law set calorie limits of 550 to 650 for students through fifth grade; 600-700 calories for middle school students, and 750 to 850 calories at the high school level, which many students say is just not enough, especially for students who play sports.
According to the USDA, a 16-year-old boy should consume between 2,200 and 3,200 calories a day, depending on activity level; a 16-year-old girl between 1,800 and 2,400. If a boy averages 850 calories per meal, they would consume 2,550 calories per day, which places them on the lower end of threshold if they are active.
Jason Morrill, who is an offensive and defensive lineman on Whitehall’s football team, said he’s not receiving as much food as he would like. “I’ve gone to practice hungry,” he said.
“I hate it. You don’t get enough food,” said Brandon Steves, a fellow lineman for the Railroaders.
Zach Rozell, who last year as a freshman was Whitehall’s largest wrestler, said he often feels tired by the end of the school day, which can affect his performance in the classroom.
“I get tired if I don’t eat enough,” he said. “It can be hard to concentrate when I feel tired.”
And Brown said some of the students don’t even get 850 calories because they aren’t eating everything they serve.
“The kids don’t like the fruit and vegetables. They’re looking for the bigger entrees,” she said.
That seemed to be the case during lunch at Granville Tuesday, where a number of students said they liked the new program.
Some like the change
“I don’t think the food is any different, except we get more,” said Granville junior Nicole LaPlante. “I like it, because we get more food.”
Hank Brill, a sophomore, is fine with some of the changes.
“I think the lunches taste better,” he said. “There are options, and I miss some of the old lunches, but I really can’t complain.”
A pair of soccer players, Phil Hicks and Rickey Prevost, both like the new lunches.
“You get more food, and that’s good, especially at this time of the day,” said Hicks, who eats lunch at 12:30 p.m.
“It’s definitely healthier. Today’s lunch was good,” Prevost said.
At another table, senior Corey Collard said he’s like to see more food on the plate for the main course.
“The portions are really small. You get like five nuggets,” he said.
Ryan Skidmore, a sophomore, said the choices are too limited.
“Maybe they could have more food to choose from,” he said. “We get the same food every week.”
Senior Dan Cenate, a muscular football player, looked it from a larger perspective.
“I think the bigger problem is that the (Obama) administration is on this big health kick, and I should be the able to be the one who chooses whether I want to eat healthy,” he said. “I agree about the portions, too. I am a big guy.”
Warner said getting kids to try new foods can be difficult. “Every district is different. You can’t implement something world-wide. Maybe where Michelle Obama lives, people like beans, but they don’t here.”
Peyton Bessette and Madisen Coso, seniors at Whitehall, said they’ve been packing their own lunches more this year because they don’t like the food as much.
“There’s no cheese on the cheeseburgers. No one wants to eat a dry cheeseburger,” Coso said.
Rozell has resorted to bringing his own salt shaker to lunch to add a little flavor to the food.
The guidelines also make the preparation of food and menus more difficult for staff.
Brown said the kitchen staff at Whitehall has had to make more recipes from scratch and spend more time cleaning and preparing produce.
“It’s more work,” she said.
Warner said she’s had to get creative with menu planning because of strict weekly limits on certain foods.
For instance, students at Granville Elementary school used to have the option of a peanut butter sandwich if they didn’t like the main entrée, but the new law limits students in kindergarten to fifth grade to nine ounces of grains every week.
“We can’t even offer a sandwich every day,” said Warner who has turned to offering half a sandwich and a yogurt to students. “What do you offer? It’s tough.”
And the problems could become tougher next year, when new guidelines are established for breakfast.
“I wish the people who put this in place could visit and see how it’s working,” Warner said.