The new calorie-maximum lunch changes has drawn the ire of families locally and nationally.
For example, students at a southeastern Wisconsin high school, Mukwonago High, started boycotting the cafeteria food this week over the “one-size-fits-all” approach to the nutrition standards.
According to officials, on average, 70 percent of Mukwonago students typically buy lunch.
Lunch menus across the country saw changes day one of the 2012-13 school year to meet federal requirements that put the focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains and took away dairy products and proteins.
School districts across the country have revised lunch menus to meet federal requirements for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
But with the changes, children have returned home hungry and parents have been flooding the phone lines of the Acadia Parish Food and Nutrition office with complaints, comments and questions.
What’s worse is the first meal showcased the change drastically.
“I think the worst part is the first meal was the worst meal we could have served,” said Superintendent John Bourque during the Acadia Parish School Board’s Personnel, Insurance and Curriculum Committee meeting. “The first impression is sometimes the last impression you get and anything now that is lower than that (meal), we fall back.”
Thus, Acadia Parish’s new supervisor of the child nutrition program, Adrianne Vidrine, was tasked with re-evaluating the district’s menus and seeing if anything could be done under the new standards to help remedy the situation.
“We planned out the cycle menu over the summer and after hearing feedback from students and parents we took another look at the menu,” said Vidrine.
As she explained at the committee meeting, she did find a few places the district could add a half-an-ounce of food here and there, plus she found places to add side salads and so forth.
According to Vidrine’s report at the committee meeting, the hot dog day will feature a bun for this year that will be white bread instead of the whole wheat and the coleslaw, which has not received favorable reviews by the students, will be replaced with tater tots.
When the students are served things like baby carrots and celery, ranch dressing will also be served to allow the students something to dip vegetables into.
They will also be switching a side dish from macaroni and cheese to cream potatoes and gravy, allowing two chicken nuggets (or half-an-ounce of protein) of be added to the ninth through 12th grades, making the number of nuggets just below its portion size last year.
It’s a band-aid for the situation, but by no stretch is it going to make everyone happy.
“They are small changes, like adding two chicken nuggets or two chicken fries, it adds a half-an-ounce of meet, so its not many changes to the menu itself.,” said Vidrine. “But in other cases were taking away the coleslaw and replacing it with tater tots.
In an effort to get things changed back to the old normal, the board has sent letters to Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-Louisiana, and the senators urging Congress to repeal the changes and help school districts keep portions as they were.
“We would like to get some relief and get the portions where they were last year,” said Superintendent Bourque. “Then we’ll serve what you would like (vegetables, fruits, etc.) to go with it.
“We also need to do a better job of teaching children what is good to eat and what is not.”
Congress, meanwhile, has introduced a bill that would repeal the USDA standards.
According to the blog “The Hill,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced H.R. 6418, known as the No Hungry Kids Act, which would eliminate new USDA guidelines that say children in kindergarten through fifth grade can be served meals containing up to 650 calories, while meals for sixth through eighth graders can have 700 calories, and meals for high schoolers can have 850 calories.
The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas.
“For the first time in history, the USDA has set a calorie limit on school lunches,” King said last week. “The goal of the school lunch program was — and is — to insure students receive enough nutrition to be healthy and to learn.
“The misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama’s ‘Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act,’ was interpreted by Secretary [Tom] Vilsack to be a directive that, because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet. Parents know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want.”
USDA announced the new policy earlier this year, and was set to start phasing it in during the current school year. When it announced the plan in January, USDA’s release included remarks from first lady Michelle Obama.
The concern for Acadia Parish, however, is simple, they know that a lot of their students are part of the free and reduced-lunch program, meaning lunch could be the only meal some of these students receive each day, and while others bring their children to fast food restaurants after school, pointing to the fact that students are not getting obese on Acadia Parish’s clock.