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Lunch programs comply with new national standards

Friday, August 24, 2012

Students at Spencer high school pass through the fresh fruit and vegetable bar on their way through the lunch line. According to the new regulations, each student, regardless of age level, is required to have 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetable on their plate at lunch.
(Photo by Kate Padilla)
In addition to new teachers, new classmates, new books, new backpacks, and new lockers, students are facing another change in their school day: new food.

Michelle Obama and her "Let's Move" campaign implemented the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act," this year, signed by President Obama in 2010.

The new act focuses on establishing healthier eating habits within children, by transforming the food environment at school. Lunch lines will no longer carry desserts. The cafeteria vending machines will no longer stock sodas and sugary juice drinks. The milk will be either low- or non-fat.

Each of the 10 implementation years focus on a different element of the school lunch program. This year's goal is to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in the students' diet.

"It's definitely a healthier approach," Kari Hardman, food service director at Clay Central-Everly schools, said. "A lot of kids nowadays don't eat many fruits and vegetables on a regular basis."

According to the regulations, every child, regardless of age level, is required to take a minimum of a half cup of fruit or vegetable. Middle and high school students are offered a cup each of fruit and vegetable. They can take both cups if they would like, but they are required to take at least a half cup.

"The kids are excited for the fruit," Spencer Food Service Director Laurie Lawson said.

In addition to the increase in fruits and vegetables, calorie limits are put on each meal offered. Elementary meals must be within 550-650 calories; middle school meals must be within 600-700 calories; and high school meals must be within 750-850 calories.

Limits are also placed on the amount of grain and meat servings per week. High schoolers are allowed 10 to 12 servings of whole grain per week. This limit includes the breading on chicken patties and nuggets, and is based on the number of grain ounces. For example, a breaded chicken patty sandwich could include as many as four servings of grain.

With the added health benefits this program creates, food service directors still have concerns about how effective this program will be.

One of the biggest concerns is how the school will be able to continue serving fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter.

"I'm going to start doing more research on what vegetables are better to buy in the winter," Hardman said. "The fresh things will be more costly, but I can understand trying to get them healthy."

"Midwest Iowa is different from other areas of the country," Lawson said.

"I think they need to tailor the program more for the different areas of the country," Ruthven-Ayrshire Food Service Director Kay Thompson said. "We live in the Midwest, our season's aren't like the west coast's or the South's."

Clay Central-Everly has created an account at a local grocery store, to make fresh fruits and vegetables available all year round. They are not certain as to the cost, but they have been able to get a good price in the past.

Spencer schools have noticed an increase in the amount of waste from the fruits and vegetables that the students were required to take.

"We're required by the government to get rid of it," Lawson said.

Lawson has put out a fresh fruit and vegetable bar at the end of the lunch line in the high school and middle school.

Clay Central-Everly schools have reduced the amount of waste by serving the students their fruits and vegetables. If they would like more than what they were given, they can come and get more, but the school controls the portions.

"They've got eyes bigger than their stomachs," Thompson said.

An additional concern is for the students who require higher calorie meals, either for a sport or because a school lunch is the only meal they get in a day.

"Bigger kids need more to eat, especially on game nights," Thompson said.

Students are able to purchase multiple meals, unless their parents have blocked them from doing so.

Schools who comply with the regulations will receive an additional six cents per meal served. Whether the additional funds will cover the increased cost of the fresher food, the directors don't yet know. But they all agree that the healthier food will be more expensive.

In future years, the program will focus on creating healthier breakfasts and on reducing sodium in the school meals. Hardman is optimistic about the changes that will be coming.

"There are other spices to add to vegetables," Hardman said.

So far, the response from the children has been largely positive.

"The kids are understanding," Hardman said. "They know things are changing, and so far they've responded well to the new foods."

"We're encouraging the kids to try the new foods," Thompson said. "Some will like it, some won't. But taste buds change, and it's nice to introduce them to something."

While the directors do see potential in the changes, they agree that the new act isn't the end-all in childhood obesity.

"It's not the lunch program's fault," Lawson said. "We have to have parent encouragement."

"In the bigger schools, even in Iowa, the high schools have open campus lunch, where the kids don't have to eat school lunches," Thompson said. "If they don't like the lunches, they can just go somewhere else to eat."

"Once this year is over, we'll know more about what works and what doesn't work, and we can change our own program accordingly," Hardman said. "They set the guidelines, and we have to follow them. It's a learning experience."

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307) places the following calorie limits on the students' meals, based on age level:

- Kindergarden-5th grade: 550-650 calories per meal

- 6th grade-8th grade: 600-700 calories per meal

- High school: 750-850 calories per meal

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What about kids that bring their own lunches? Are they going to have food taken from them that the school is not allowed to serve under this program? If I were to pack my childs lunch and it doesn't follow the guidelines and it is taken from them I'd be very upset. I do understand what the program is trying to do though. But if you have a very picky eater what are the parents suppose to do. Have them not eat all day because the school doesn't allow what they bring? For example, a bite size candy bar for a childs dessert?

-- Posted by puppyluv on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 10:26 AM

I have a 15 year old son in sports. Even with a double meal he is leaving the lunch room hungry. I've gone to packing a lunch every day for him while he is in sports. (this will last until February since he is in cross country and basketball) For a double meal it is $4.20 - I can pack a nutritious meal that he will eat for less than that and I can assure he will NOT be hungry.

I understand the problems with obesity, but you have to realize that this meal is the best, if not the only meal some kids in the school system eat. Cutting calories at school is hurting alot of students, not helping them.

-- Posted by mcanderson on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 10:55 AM

I dislike the view that all sugary snacks are cut out. I think it would be more educational to serve smaller, 50-100 calorie portions of cakes or a few mini-cookies for dessert, or have a cookie or cake square twice a week instead of 4-5 times a week. Moderation is the key to health, not necessarily cutting out everything you like. None of my children is obese. My sons have my body type and are slightly chunky but within normal weight limits, and my elementary age son is an active boy.

My daughter is underweight and struggles to gain weight like my husband. I understand I could pack a lunch for her, and with the lunch lines in relation to her lunchtime class, perhaps I ought to (and she is 16 and could also prepare her own food). I realize the school lunch program cannot accommodate every diet, but I also wish it could be customized for your area. A suburban area like that parodied in the movie "Over the Hedge" might produce more sedentary, obese schoolchildren, because they have any food they want at their order and accessibility.

A rural area like this where most kids get out and play, or the very poor areas of the nation really would not need the "help" combating obesity -- in the case of the poor area, they have a lack of food and calories and could use more dense, nutritious calorie intake.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 12:40 PM

I think they should up the amount of the other three items to make up for the lost food.

Funny thing is they took away desert but for the most part the rest of the menu is junk.

Most researsh show white bread is terrible for you yet it is served many days. Hot dogs, cheese pizza, Mr. Rib, chicken nuggets. To take the desert away and think the meals are nutritious is a fallacy.

Much of the fruit that is served comes out of cans filled with sugary syrup. The veggies are probably the only legit item for the most part.

Let's not congratulate ourselves that the school meals are now healthy because the kids don't get a cookie. There is a long long long way to go.

-- Posted by financeman on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 1:23 PM

I don't have an issue with having our kids eat healthier. What I do have a problem with is some of the choices they made. I am looking at the monthly lunch menu right now and see things that are a little obsurd. No white bread? I'm not sure what W/G means, but if it means whole grain wheat, then my I have to pack my son's luch everyday because he hates wheat bread. What if people don't like wheat bread? I don't and don't expect my son to have to eat it if he doesn't want to either. Next thing I see is baby carrots/red peppers. Really? Red peppers? That combination doesn't even sound appealing. And if it's a choice, then they just wasted money on preparing red peppers because NOONE is going to eat them. Next up....romaine & spinach salad. What is wrong with regular lettuce? Any one who expects a child to eat romaine & spinach salad is dense. If a kid likes it, great, but I guarantee that most kids will find it unappealing to begin with. I am all on board with more fruits and vegetables for our kids, what I'm not on board with is the ridiculous choices that they are making with this new lunch program.

-- Posted by lastsonofoa on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 1:49 PM

I think this is a good thing. Kids will learn to like it. I don't understand why a parent wouldn't want their kid to eat healthier. Do you want to condemn them to a life of obesity and diabetes? Instead of whining about it for your kid, embrace it and make healthier choices for yourselves at home too. A longer, healthier life is a happier life. Eat to live, don't live to eat.

-- Posted by Leah Cauthron on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 3:47 PM

I send two children to school who will gladly eat carrots, peppers and spinach/romaine salads. What is wrong with iceberg? Perhaps that it serves no nutritional value beyond some water. Spinach is full of iron and a much healthier option.

Yes, I take w/g to mean whole grain, and I think the kids should be given a chance to try to like it before you assume that you should pack all their lunches for them with less healthy white bread. You'd be amazed at what young kids will try and figure out they like when they see their friends doing the same thing.

I also don't think poor areas need dense amounts of calories. Much of the "cheap" food that the poor communities can afford are already chock full of calories, and that is why they actually do have an obesity problem. Eating healthy truly does cost more.

Now, if we'd like to discuss the meat options offered at the schools or that, yes, even with the removal of desserts the meals are largely unhealthy and unappealing, I'd agree, more work definitely needs to be done. But, I don't think these changes are a bad thing.

-- Posted by a-thought-or-two on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 4:08 PM

Totally agree with you a-thought-or-two. My son absolutely loves cooked peppers and onions, prefers romaine and spinach over iceberg, and definitely doesn't even know what white bread is (besides the occasional white baguette we have with dinner). It's up to parents to cultivate a taste for fresh veggies, whole grains, seafood, etc. Most of the kids who I meet who don't eat veggies, or healthier options, don't eat them because their parents don't like them, and don't serve them at home. My son's favorite meal is falafels (chickpea patties) in a pita. He's nine. Put a piece of fish (any kind) in front of that kid and it's devoured in seconds. So the excuse that kids don't like certain foods is a myth, perpetuated by ignorant parents. They have to be exposed to those foods, in a non-combative way, and asked to try certain foods, and parents need to serve the veggies cooked in different ways. I think the school making simple changes is making a difference, slowly but surely. Hopefully in the near future they will also be incorporating less processed meats, and fruits not in syrup but fresh from a garden/farm. I applaud them for teaching our children that their bodies are to be fed with healthy fuel to have healthier longer lives.

-- Posted by Vanessa on Sat, Aug 25, 2012, at 10:54 AM

Did I read a previous post incorrectly? Did someone say that rural and poor areas DON'T have an obesity issue. If so, then I hate to break it to you but we are WORSE than most metropolitan areas. Much worse per capita. I personally am glad they are making some of these changes and forcing me to think about the choices we make at home too!

-- Posted by smalltowntots on Sat, Aug 25, 2012, at 1:54 PM

How can poor areas have an obesity problem? I'm talking about the poorest ghettos and the rural poor areas like Appalachia. They don't have money for junk food treats there, and can barely pay for proper food for meals, so I'm not sure how anyone could be overweight who is poor.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Sat, Aug 25, 2012, at 5:14 PM

Simply put, really rural areas and ghetto areas are hardest hit with obesity because healthy nutritious food is more expensive and higher caloric, poor nutritional food is cheaper. Simple online google will show you in great detail from a variety of sites. A visit to those areas will show you firsthand. I did a year teaching in rural Kentucky. A very impoverished area. There was certainly an obesity issue there.

-- Posted by smalltowntots on Sat, Aug 25, 2012, at 5:43 PM

Appalacia is also triple the rate of pre-diabetic and diabetic cases. There are lots of theories on why they are more at risk. Less education to make smarter decisions, less income to buy healthy food, and "food binging" (eating a lot one day cause you don't know if you'll have money tomorrow) are all factors. I'm sure there are more. Hope that helps you out.

-- Posted by smalltowntots on Sat, Aug 25, 2012, at 6:40 PM

I read these comments and wonder if many of you really read the article. This is a program with new mandates from the Federal Government. It isn't the local staff in the school kitchens that is choosing what foods your kids eat. A call to Senator Harkin or Senator Grassley will have more influence than complaining in this paper. Tell Representative King that your kids are still hungry after they eat the full meal at school. The ladies in the school kitchen want to provide a nutricious meal that your kids will eat, just as their teacher wants them to learn. Let's all thank the staff at the local school for their efforts to adhere to a new policy which they have no control over.

-- Posted by fivelaw on Mon, Aug 27, 2012, at 8:03 AM

Right On fivelaw! That's the real story!

-- Posted by Mechler on Mon, Aug 27, 2012, at 8:20 AM

'So the excuse that kids don't like certain foods is a myth, perpetuated by ignorant parents.'

Really? I'm ignorant because my child refuses to eat fruits or vegetables? Even though I eat them. I have tried to force my child to try many different fruits and vegetables. Guess what? It gets spit out because she doesn't like it. Tried sneaking it into other foods. She finds it and picks them out. She also doesn't like other types of food because she doesn't like the taste of it.

I have other children who love certain fruits and vegetables. They are willing to try anything once. All of them raised the same way, in the same house, with the same food.

I just want to know if my kids packed lunch will be taken away if it doesn't fall in the guidelines of what is considered healthy under the new law.

Also heard something... a child went back for seconds on a fruit cup and was denied because they already had their serving? What? I would think getting extra fruit would be good for them. Guess not!

-- Posted by puppyluv on Mon, Aug 27, 2012, at 4:29 PM


I don't believe anyone here mentioned that they blame the school. They are concerned with how this govt change will affect how their kids eat. Some people don't believe that it is worthwhile or important for these changes to occur. Others do. I think communicating on here is a great way to debate the issue and see all sides. While those disgruntled absolutely should contact their congressmen, it never hurts to have open dialog with others.

-- Posted by smalltowntots on Mon, Aug 27, 2012, at 8:52 PM

All of this is to combat the growing epidemic in this country of child and adult obesity. Now if we can re-address the issue of Physical Education in our school, for those that really need it vs. those that are already out for every sport and don't need it.

Wouldn't it be great to see a fitness program tailored for those that need it? It would include having each child's BMI tested and a program tailored for them to become physically fit and teach them to carry that into adulthood. Our hospital and various other businesses are in the Blue Zone, our schools including teachers and students should strive for the same goal.

-- Posted by Leah Cauthron on Tue, Aug 28, 2012, at 9:28 AM

Leah, How about we treat our kids as equal and not have a separate PE program just for the fat kids. In the army, we called this the fat boy program. Is this what you really want?

-- Posted by retiredarmysarge on Tue, Aug 28, 2012, at 9:53 AM


The kids that are in NON physical activities are the ones that should be required to have PE. Kids that are in physical activities (depending on the time of year) shouldn't have to have PE. It kind of defeats the purpose of fighting obesity to have it the way it is now. So I totally agree with you on that. But to single out kids based on their BMI is wrong and could lead to issues beyond physical health. I wouldn't want my kid to be singled out even though I do understand why you think it would be a good idea.

-- Posted by puppyluv on Tue, Aug 28, 2012, at 10:52 AM

Yes, "retired..." Kids are in the midst of this epidemic because we have tried it the other way so no one feels bad but it is literally killing certain children. Currently we are giving them a way out but not an option to change if they want it. We already single out kids based on standardized test scores and other criteria for academics, why not for their own health too?

And "puppyluv", at SHS, all students are required to take PE unless their parent signs an exemption which is ONLY granted to those students who are in both band and vocal, which is not generally a physical activity for most of the year. Students who are out for sports every season still have to take PE. That was my point so I'm not sure where you interpreted the opposite from my post. Sorry if I didn't make myself clear.

-- Posted by Leah Cauthron on Tue, Aug 28, 2012, at 11:19 AM

Leah, I get what your saying by band kids getting out of PE. All kids whether they are in band or athletics should be required to be in P.E. I think PE needs to be more structured as to teach kids to excercise to be physically fit. Not just divide up into teams, dig up a ball, and play a game of hoops. I got a kid at home that eats and eats, but can't gain a pound. If you ask him to bend over and touch the floor, he couldn't. To put a label as fit or unfit on a kid based on his BMI is not the way to go. How will you deal with the mental issues that will go with the unfit label. P.E. needs to be just as important in the classroom as math or reading. All kids need to have P.E.

-- Posted by retiredarmysarge on Tue, Aug 28, 2012, at 1:36 PM

My son is out for a sport each season and hits the weight room at least 2-3 times a week. He eats mostly right because I cook every night. So why does he need PE?

-- Posted by Leah Cauthron on Tue, Aug 28, 2012, at 3:37 PM

'Now if we can re-address the issue of Physical Education in our school, for those that really need it vs. those that are already out for every sport and don't need it.'

I was agree to the last part about re-addressing the issue and those that are out for every sport and don't need it. I then put my opinion in on the non-physical activities. Sorry if it didn't sound that way.

-- Posted by puppyluv on Tue, Aug 28, 2012, at 3:51 PM

@Leah, Would a good reason be a a good role model for his peers during PE, to encourage and push the slower kids to run faster or work harder. Wouldn't you also want a tudor for your kid if he had problems with math. It's the same concept.

-- Posted by retiredarmysarge on Tue, Aug 28, 2012, at 5:13 PM

You know every other school has to "change" you don't see them complaining on here. Get over it and deal with change, its called LIFE !!

-- Posted by Toodles712 on Thu, Aug 30, 2012, at 10:02 AM

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