Sep 22 2012
By Josh Verges
At Brandon Valley High School, the garlic bread and French toast are shrinking, and hamburgers have disappeared.
“You don’t get enough food. I get seconds, and it’s not enough,” junior Ethan Shabino said.
Students and food service workers throughout the country are upset with new rules for the National School Lunch program, which impose limits on calories, meat and grains while requiring students take — but not necessarily eat — more fruits and vegetables.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directs schools to make significant changes in the type of food they serve, starting this school year. Other lunch line casualties of Congress’ health kick will include sodium, white bread and flavored milk.
“Probably one of the biggest concerns (we’re hearing) is the limited amount of calories,” said Mary Stadick-Smith, deputy secretary for the South Dakota Department of Education, who said the department has fielded a large number of complaints. “Kids can pay to go back and get seconds, but not every family can afford that.”
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem last week wrote to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to pass on concerns about the local cost of buying more fruits and vegetables, wasted food and calorie limits.
“As a mother of three, with two children in the public school system, I know that providing a meal means more than food on a plate. Every child is different, and therefore their activity level and caloric requirements vary,” Noem wrote.
School meal supervisors agree that many students aren’t getting enough to eat. In past years, they could offer seconds at no charge or allow students to take a slice of bread to fill their stomachs. Now, schools must follow weekly calorie limits to get federally reimbursed for those meals; at the high school level, it’s an average of 750 to 850 calories per lunch.
“I don’t think you can treat a 100-pound cheerleader like a 200-pound football player,” said Sandi Kramer, child nutrition supervisor for the Yankton School District.
The limit on grains has Yankton reducing the serving sizes of the breads they cook on site. It now costs students a quarter for an extra dinner roll.
Yankton also had to close its salad bar, where students and faculty could pile on hard-boiled eggs and other meat toppings. Kramer said the average salad contained three ounces of meat, which would have put the district over the weekly limit; instead, food service workers now package chef salads with two ounces of meat on them.
“That is something that has been hard for me because I do think kids need protein,” Kramer said.
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture agrees. The group recently passed a policy statement that said limits on calories and meat deprive growing students of what they need to learn.
“We just don’t feel there’s enough protein that’s recommended in these meals. It’s a one-size-fits-all,” South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones said.
Stadick-Smith said some school officials worry they’ll lose customers because of the new guidelines.
Julie Wilhelmsen of Baltic began packing lunches for her three school-age children when her oldest, Timothy, who plays football, wasn’t getting enough to eat.
“His biggest thing was portion size. He’s 220 pounds,” she said.
When her son forgot his home-made meal in his truck one day, he ate three school lunches, she said. Her seventh-grader was upset when the school didn’t provide ranch dressing for raw vegetables. Limits on ketchup haven’t gone over well, either.
Reaction to new rules that are putting more fruits and vegetables on kids’ plates has been split. In order to earn the federal reimbursement, schools must ensure students put either a fruit or vegetable serving on their tray for every meal.
“It’s kind of a waste because half the people don’t actually eat it,” said Jacob Parker, a Brandon Valley junior who is among those averse to vegetables. He doesn’t care much for the frequent beans on the menu either, a result of a legume mandate.
But the rules have gone over better in elementary schools.
“Actually, I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from parents,” Yankton’s Kramer said. “They’re glad to know that their kids have to take a fruit or vegetable when they go through — whether they’re eating it, I don’t know.”
It’s the same story on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
“The elementary kids, you don’t hear from them so much. But the middle school and high school you do hear more, especially the athletes,” said Robyn Pyner, food service director for Todd County schools.
Gay Anderson, Brandon Valley’s food service director, opposes the limits on calories, grains and meat but has been pleased to see young children trying new types of produce. The rules call for not only more fruits and vegetables but also a variety of red, orange and green produce in lieu of french fries.
“We know kids in our elementary schools are getting a lot more fruits and vegetables on their trays,” she said.
The trouble is the cost of fresh produce, which has been difficult to manage even with a modest increase in federal per-meal reimbursement rates. Anderson said the drought has made fruits and vegetables particularly costly, and apples are up 17 cents compared to the spring. If kids take everything they’re offered, meals cost the district 42 cents more than last year, she said.
The calorie limits are of particular concern in Todd County, where more than 90 percent of students get free or discounted meals because of low family income.
Pyner worries that federal guidelines to get kids healthy leave students hungry.
“Last year, the kids could have (free) seconds if they wanted,” she said. “I can’t do that this year.”
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