Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Awaiting The Grade On New School Lunches

The new school year brings with it new standards for school lunches. School food preparers and students are adjusting.

Rows of vegetable servings for school lunches, including broccoli, baby carrots, and radishes.

Photo: USDA (Flickr)

New school lunch guidelines drastically decrease the salt and fat content of meals. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains are supposed to fill in.

Inspired by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, the 2012-2013 overhaul to school lunches marks the first such revision in fifteen years.

While previous guidelines set only a minimum calorie count per meal, the new ones also stipulate a calorie maximum and emphasize the importance of eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Hungry Kids In Kansas

The new health-food-heavy diet isn’t without its detractors, though.

“Sometimes I eat it,” says a student at Wichita Northeast Magnet High School, “but sometimes it’s just nasty.”

Other students complain they’re leaving lunch hungrier than they used to.

Administrators hope lower calorie counts will teach students about nutrition and appropriate portion size, though they recognize that active students like athletes might need to supplement their meals with á la carte items.

Old Chefs In New York

In New York City, a well-regarded program called Wellness In The Schools (WITS) has long recruited professional chefs to bring healthy, tasty meals into school cafeterias.

But earlier this month, education officials terminated their relationship with WITS because they worried WITS-made meals might not meet the new federal standards, and because school districts found to be violating the new guidelines are at risk of losing some federal funding.

Following pressure from the City Council and the population at large, however, the education department reversed their decision. Schools intend to work with WITS to continue to deliver tasty meals to students and to ensure meals are in compliance with the new rules.

Costs Going Up, Numbers Going Down

To make up for the slightly more expensive ingredients on the new menus, numerous districts have had to increase the price of school lunches.

The price increase came in response to a February memo from the USDA which stated that schools charging less than $2.51 per meal had to raise their prices by at least 4.18 percent or find a non-federal funding sources to account for the same value.

Some schools, however, have seen a significant decline in the number of students purchasing the lunches. Whether the decline has to do with the changing menu, increased prices or some other lurking variable is uncertain.

Read More:

  • School Lunch Changes Cause Concern For Kansas Students (KWCH)
  • New York City Revives School Lunch Program That Takes Chefs Into Schools (New York Times)
  • Obama Administration Celebrates School-Lunch Overhaul (The Hill)
  • Kids Paying More For School Lunch This Year (The Daily Times)
Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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