Thanks to new food service regulations the days of school chili and giant cinnamon rolls at lunch are over for school kids nationwide.
In 2010 Michelle Obama went to a lame duck session of Congress with a request -- pass a nutrition bill giving the United States Department of Agriculture broad new powers to regulate school lunches — all in the name of combating childhood obesity.
That bill was passed in late December of that year and the new regs have started to go into effect, and were far more sweeping than what anyone anticipated.
PJ Moran, Columbus Unified School District 493 food service director, said wastage has gone up at least 20 percent over last year, as students, particularly at the grade school level cannot refuse anything on their trays — but cannot be forced to eat it.
At the high school and junior high levels, things are more flexible, but not much. Moran said those students can refuse up to three items on the tray, but must take the fruit and vegetable servings weather they plan to eat them or not.
“Waste has gone up at least 20 percent,” he said.
Central Junior High School Principal Jim Bolden said on the first day of school they were forced to throw away about four boxes of fresh peaches which were uneaten, but had to be discarded because they had been on the lunch trays.
Baxter Springs Food Service Director Marilyn Gilmore said they’ve managed to reduce the waste somewhat by giving the grade school students a choice between the fruit or vegetable serving or a salad. Faced with that choice, she said, most will take the fruit — and eat it.
“If they will take that four ounce serving (of fruit) then we can recognize that meal as reimbursable,” she said.
That term, reimbursable, is important because school districts are reimbursed by the USDA for at least part of the cost of the meals, and the new regulations have added six cents per meal to the rate.
Moran said the problem is, the state has been forced to hire more nutritionists which is driving up costs to the state. Moreover, he said the extra six cents doesn’t really cover the additional costs of whole grains and fresh fruits.
Baxter Springs Superintendent Dennis Burke said his district saw this coming and not only budgeted extra money for it, but raised the price of meals 10 cents this year, and said lunch prices will probably be adjusted yearly going forward.
“We kind of anticipated this and we budgeted for it,” he said.
Regardless Gilmore said she’s in support of the new regulations and doesn’t see a problem with them.
“I’m supporting the new regulations,” she said. “This is what we’ve been asked to do and I will do it.”
She said they are implementing things carefully because not all of the new foods are popular — such as sweet potato fries and tater tots which she said the students didn’t care for.
Not only is the food mandated not popular and often wasted, but there also is not enough of it, and students are protesting. Students Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs have gone so far as to release a YouTube video parodying their quest for enough to eat during the day. There’s even a Facebook page asking kids to send in pictures of their so-called lunches.
According to Livestrong.com teenagers need between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day to be healthy, and athletes can need as much as 5,000. But the new regulations limit the intake to just 750-850 on the tray. Which, if the food is unpalatable, means the students may not be getting even that much.
The idea that students weren’t getting enough to eat so infuriated Rep. Tim Huelskamp, (R-Kan.) and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that they cosponsored the “No Hungry Kids Act” which aims to repeal the legislation they say is sending kids home hungry.
Huelskamp said he got involved in August -- in Kansas school starts in August, much earlier than many other states -- when a relative sent him pictures of what was in a school lunch.
“One size doesn’t fit all, particularly in the lunchroom,” he said “The goal of the school lunch program is supposed to be feeding children, not filling the trash cans with uneaten food.
“The USDA’s new school lunch guidelines are a perfect example of what is wrong with government: misguided inputs, tremendous waste, and unaccomplished goals. Thanks to the Nutrition Nannies at the USDA, America’s children are going hungry at school.”
According to Huelskamp even the last refuge of the hungry student — the unlimited school salad bar — is now more or less a thing of the past.
“Eight-hundred calories is not going to get you from lunch through football practice,” he said. “They can’t even have an unlimited salad bar any more because they (the kids) might put too much cheese on it or not have the mandated eight cherry tomatoes.”
Not only that but the amount of protein a child is allowed on their trays is seriously limited as well according the Huelskamp. He said the current regulations limit servings of protein, which could be anything from a hamburger to a side of beans, to one-and-a-half ounces two days a week and two ounces the other three days.
In addition, traditional fundraising activities such as selling band candy are now banned.
The Columbus 8th grade class traditionally sells candy bars to fund their class trip — but this year will be having a chili feed because they cannot sell the candy bars except for brief periods before and after lunch.
“Next year we will not be able to do any selling of food products at all,” Bolden said. “Right now we cannot sell from an hour before lunch until an hour after lunch ends.”
Dave Trabert, of the Kansas Policy Institute, said this is simply governmental overreach.
“Obviously this is another outrageous example of government taking away personal freedom,” he said. It’s really up to parents what their kids eat and the government should not be mandating.
“I would have to wonder how many of these bureaucrats are having pizza at their meetings.”