Lunches less than satisfying [UPDATED]Published 4:28am Monday, May 6, 2013 Updated 6:32am Monday, May 6, 2013
Michelle Vogl has turned to bagged lunches and the a la carte option in order to fill her four children in the Fergus Falls School District.
“My kids have said they don’t like the food as much this year and that the portions are a lot smaller,” Vogl said. “One is pickier, so we pack his lunch just so we know he’s getting the proper portions and nutrition from food he likes.”
It’s the unintended consequence of federal mandates to make school lunches healthier, said Vogl and other parents in the district. Part of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, lawmakers looked to battle childhood obesity by targeting food served at schools.
But some parents are worried the new program isn’t very effective because of how hungry it leaves their children.
Changes in weekly menus put an emphasis on including more fresh fruits and vegetables. The previous high school nutrition program required one-third to one cup of two or more fruits or vegetables a day, but current meals separate the allotted fruits and vegetables.
Now, servings for fruits must equal half to one cup per day. For vegetables, two-thirds to one cup are required, with at least a half a cup of dark green, orange and legumes each served weekly.
Meat and grain servings are closely watched, however. The previous menu served an average of two- to three-ounce servings of grain products a day.
Under the new program, that average has been kept around 2 to 2.5 ounces, with the additional requirement that half must be rich in whole-grain. Meat servings previously averaged up to three ounces a day, but now is down to two ounces.
The same trend follows for elementary lunches, though the servings sizes are slightly smaller for the younger students. But those limitations are what have some parents like Vogl worried their children aren’t getting enough.
For example, on days her kids take their lunch from home, Vogl said she has noticed they seem more satisfied.
“I’ve heard quite a few parents comment about how full their kids are with the lunch portions,” Vogl said. “Given a choice, especially with our boys, I’d have slightly larger protein portions so they can be a little more full a little longer. I’m not saying serve more fried chicken, just a little bit larger servings.”
According to Kennedy Secondary School Cafeteria Manager Becky Shearer, however, students seem to have grown accustomed to the new requirements.
“When we started out the program, they complained about not getting enough food,” Shearer said. “But if they take all that they’re allowed to, it’s more than enough.”
New Grab-and-Go breakfasts are available for students who otherwise wouldn’t eat in the morning. Available Grab-and-Go snack options also provide students extra energy before afternoon activities.
The mandate also requires students to have a fruit or vegetable item on their tray for it to count as a meal. If they don’t, they are told to put one on.
That does not necessarily mean the food will be eaten, however. But at Kennedy, Shearer said she hasn’t seen any indication students are throwing food away any more than usual.
“The higher grade levels tend to eat their food,” Shearer said. “Overall, it’s been about the same here.”
While food staffs don’t measure the amount of wasted food, staff at the elementary schools shared Shearer’s sentiment. Kids have always been picky eaters, one staff member at Cleveland said, but there hasn’t been a significant increase in waste at their school.
According to the district’s business manager Mark Masten, sales have stayed consistent after the new program’s installation. In the district, 73.3 percent of students participate in the hot lunch program. At Kennedy, that number is even higher at 75.6 percent.
When broken down between the regular lunch line and the a la carte option, however, the numbers at Kennedy tell a different story. According to Masten, 59.8 percent of those students in the hot lunch program go through the regular line, while 40.2 percent go through a la carte.
Adding the a la carte numbers with those students who take a lunch from home, a majority of Kennedy students, roughly 55 percent, are not following the new program’s requirements.
While Masten said the district promotes healthy eating within the a la carte menu as well, with things like healthier whole grain dough and low fat cheese pizza, a quick meal with students reveals there are ways around it.
One female student said Pop-tarts and a bottle of water are a staple for her lunchtime meals, while others talk of splurging on tacos.
Students were also vocal about their preference of the a la carte line, saying it is more filling and often used to supplement the regular lunch meal.
“For those who have the money to afford it, you can get more,” one student eating the regular lunch said. “But those who can’t are stuck with this.”
There were some meals students said they enjoy, but only eat enough to feel full two out of the five days a week. Some students even said they would accept losing the a la carte option if better foods and portions were served in the regular line.
With the changes part of federal mandate, however, the program is here to stay. For Vogl, that means she will keep making meals at home until some things are changed.
“I’ve kind of just resorted to packing lunches and letting the older ones chose a la carte, hoping they make wise choices,” she said.