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ICYMI: Lighter Lunches Leave Kids Hungry



Reports continue to reveal new school lunch requirements are leaving students hungry, increasing food waste, and running up costs for schools nationwide.

According to a school food services director from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, "Participation is down, and the feedback we are getting is that [students are] not getting enough to eat. I like the regulations, but the one-size-fits-all doesn’t really work."

An article in today’s Boston Herald provides new insight into how these controversial regulations are affecting students, parents, and school officials:

The federal government’s relentless push toward healthier school lunches — amping up the veggies and trimming protein portions — are leaving students’ tummies growling and parents grumbling.

Brookline High School senior Harrison Ross is on the front lines of the mealtime miasma. While he’s getting more fruits and vegetables, the school limits him to only one meal, and it isn’t enough.

“I go back and say, ‘Can I get another salad?’ and they say, ‘No, sorry,’” Ross said.

The new federal school lunch guidelines include a recommended rainbow of vegetables (dark green, red and orange, beans and peas) each week. It has been met with a mix of helplessness and frustration among the state’s teenagers — and their parents.

“Yesterday I was hungry to the point that I went home and had a piece of pizza, two hots dogs and spaghetti and meat sauce. To be that hungry is not effective,” Ross said.

Ross’ mom, Julie, has a serious beef with what she called an “insane” situation.

“I have to buy tons of deli, and by Wednesday it’s gone,” she said, adding that it has messed up dinner. “He’ll be hungry at 9 p.m., but not 6:30 or 7.”

Kate Millett of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said younger kids have less of an issue with the changes. But the teenage complaint is simple: “The center of the plate used to be around the meat item. Now it’s around the fruits and vegetables.”

The new guidelines are a balance between making sure poor kids get enough to eat and curbing obesity for high-risk students, said Dr. Ron Kleinman, chief of pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, who helped the feds develop the new school lunch guidelines.

“You can follow these guidelines and create some really good tasting meals that the kids are really going to want to eat,” he insisted.

But Dr. Allan Walker, a Harvard Medical School pediatrician, said after-school gorging runs counter to what government and nutrition experts are trying to accomplish. And he’s not surprised: “Once a child has established a taste, it’s very hard to change that quickly. My personal opinion is with older children, you need to gradually do it.”

“If you stopped pizza entirely and gave them Brussels sprouts, you would probably see kids hungry because it’s not something they like. Cold turkey doesn’t work,” Walker said.

Sandra Washington said her 17-year-old and her 11-year-old both groan. “I’m spending more on groceries now,” she said. “They’re not getting enough where it’s holding them over. They come home and pretty much eat another lunch.”

Alden Cadwell, Brookline schools’ food service director, said he is trying more creative routes to get teens to eat more at lunch. They are phasing in more cooking from scratch, debuted a baked potato bar and held a recipe contest this month for the kids to help improve the menu.

In Shrewsbury, food service director Beth Nichols said the decrease in quantity has resulted in fewer kids buying lunch.

“Participation is down, and the feedback we are getting is that they’re not getting enough to eat,” she said. “I like the regulations, but the one-size-fits-all doesn’t really work.”

Gina Core of Medway said her two middle schoolers aren’t fans of school lunches anymore.

“They don’t like it as much as they used to. They miss the Tater Tots,” Core said. “And they get pretzels, but without salt. They do it, but they don’t love it.”

House Education and the Workforce Committee Republicans recently sent oversight letters to Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak and the Government Accountability Office requesting more information about the implementation and potential consequences of the new standards. To read the letters, click here and here.

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