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Told you so part II: new school lunch rules, not enough food…

Posted by on Aug 31, 2012 in Blog Posts | 21 comments

Take a few moments to read this article about a Pittsburgh school that is already feeling the pinch of the new lunch regulations.

The smaller, less satisfying portions aren’t the fault of the district, according to food service director Maryann Lazzaro. She says they’re simply following federal school lunch guidelines that require more fruits and vegetables. “If you’re working with 650 calories for a meal, and 140 comes from a milk and 70 comes from fruit because fruit is now mandated … you’ve only got a small amount left for the protein the bread and the vegetable,” says Lazzaro.

Parent Jo-Ann Ward concurs that the issue is “not a reflection on the school or the lunch workers,” But for kids who play sports after school and may not get home till after 5 p.m., it’s not enough food. “Most kids are having to purchase 2 lunches or 1 lunch and a bunch of extras just to get through the day,” says Ward.

While Told you so: part I focused on less scratch foods, this quick post gets at the idea of the strict calorie and nutrition restrictions. Middle-school kids get less food, and I’ve heard school lunch personnel talk about trying to cut grains and protein by serving a sandwich with only one slice of bread, or how one drumstick is cutting it close… Our eleven year-old, lean Mommy’s helper complained that she’s not getting enough food (and this was before the regulations). “I hate pizza day, the slices are like, this big, and I’m always starving.”

I wonder how much more we will hear about this topic, since much of the country hasn’t even started school yet.

Keep your eyes and ears open for me, will ya? Are your kids complaining? Is your school lunch better? Worse? How? (I have to say, St Paul schools has a fantastic menu, so we’re very lucky.  I’ll let you know if M notices she gets less food…)

If we are failing to meet the most basic needs of hunger, we are failing our children in the most fundamental way. BTW, no study (and many, many millions have been spent looking) have shown that reducing calories and fat in lunches  makes kids slimmer, which seems to be the #1 goal of school lunch programs these days…

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  1. Charity

    My kids, ages 16 and 14 are both starving when they get home from school. They are both involved in sports and my 16 year old works part-time some evenings as well, so there is little time to eat until later at night. They complain that not only are the lunch portions so small, but the lunches themselves taste awful. I am going to talk to them about starting to pack their lunches so we can control together how much and what they get for lunch. In the end they would get more food that they actually like for probably a cheaper price! These new guidelines are nothing short of ridiculous.

  2. Robin

    I have 6 kids. Every day since about the third day of school they have packed a small lunch, which they eat in addition to the school lunch. They also pack breakfast because they like eating with their friends at school, and when breakfast is something they like they eat what they brought plus what the school has. Two of my kids play sports and they have it the hardest, but even my kindergartener is hungry and complains about the new portion sizes. I am just thankful I can buy and pack their food…how many parents can not afford to?

  3. Anna

    This is very sad. I feel awful for these kids. And you just know the people who make this policy are all “Fat kids hurr!” and patting each other on the back for a job well done, and meanwhile they have never seen these kids in class, unable to concentrate because they are starving.


  4. JenC

    Public schools in my town proudly announced they will be ‘reducing the protein portion’ of the school lunch this year.

    My first thought was, seriously? Because growing children really need LESS PROTEIN? Are they out of their minds? The anti-obesity terror in this country is turning into ‘pro-starvation’ – I just wonder how long it will be before the schools start to notice that hungry children will pay less attention and the all important standardized tests scores are going to drop.

  5. Jennifer Hansen

    I’ve been thinking recently about the federally supported efforts directed at children’s diet and fitness and the crying needs that are not being addressed at a federal level. I wonder whether the unexamined assumption underlying these disastrously misdirected federal programs is that (trying to avoid political hotbutton words here) the way we do things must be good for everybody, it simply must. But here are all these people showing us by their existence that the way we do things isn’t good for everybody. This cannot stand!

    The charitable and humane response is to find out why the way we do things dumps some people in the dirt and make sure it stops happening. The frightened and defensive response is to shame and punish the people who are down there in the dirt when we are trying to have our parade here, dammit. Even if they are children who are defiantly not having enough food at home and not going out into the neighborhood. One response is easier and quicker than the other.

  6. Fat Grad

    I see that a lot of people are commenting about the negative effect this will have on poor children. As usual, when our government decides to put in guidelines that are supposed to help people the poor are the most vulnerable to experiencing the negative effects. Children from families with more disposable income will be able to supplement the meals with additional portions, sides, or simply bring in a more filling meal from home. But poor children will simply go hungry. A few years ago the government overhauled the WIC program, and the choices now are just silly compared to what women and children were receiving before. They mandate everything, including that children over 2 cannot get whole milk through the program. I think this is unfortunate, since for most poor people, the more calories they can access the better. I am certain that those who are making these decisions drink the milk of their choice, and if it is not whole they are at liberty to get fat and calories elsewhere. But the women and children who depend on this program. Well. My son qualifies for the school lunch program, but if he is hungry I will have to find the money to send in his lunches instead. Somewhere. And there is a big chance that he will be hungry, because he is very active on the gymnastics team and doing karate. I can’t have his learning suffer because he is too hungry to pay attention to lessons. I’m sure I’ll scrape up the cash. But what if I can’t? And what about the millions of other parents who won’t be able to? How hungry do our children have to be before we realize that our bodies NEED food to survive? Our health system is annoyingly Cartesian.

    • lunch lady

      You are who I am most concerned with. I do a pretty darn good job of offering lots of fruit and vegetable choices for my students at school but with the limits on grains and proteins we are not serving enough for athletic involvement. The students on free or reduced that are not able to find money to supplement these lunches are very apt to develop low blood sugar problems by the end of practice. My school had already done away with excess salt, junk foods and drinks so the only things these new regulations did to us was to cut back on grain, protein, and yes even milk. Anyone in sports should be paying very close attention to what these lunches are doing to their kids.

      • katja

        Oh, thank you LL for writing in! I thank you also for the often “thankless” job you do, with little money, and how school lunch gets blamed and vilified. There are some schools that seem to offer better choices than others, but as we are all getting at, this legislation is not the answer…

  7. Wacky Lisa

    When I was last in public school (admittedly a long time ago) it was understood by the staff that for many of the students the food they got at school was all the food they got.
    Even with an added school breakfast I can’t imagine the poor kids doing well with this.

    • Anna

      Very good point. It makes me realise the people making these policies are not the people who see the kids every day.

  8. J

    “If you’re working with 650 calories for a meal…”

    Ah, the “C-word.”

    I’m no nutritionist, but I’m pretty sure the daily caloric needs of a 5-year-old are going to differ a little from those of a 12-year-old–and one 12-year-old’s requirements aren’t going to be the same as those of another 12-year-old. Why, why, why is it appropriate to assume a one-size-fits-all meal plan for every child in the building?

    And what about the kids whose only guaranteed meal for the day is school lunch? Tough sh*t for them, I guess. As a recovering anorexic, I can tell you what consistently eating 650 or fewer calories per day can do to a body in its mid-20s. I’d hate to imagine what happens to a body that’s trying to go through puberty the FIRST time.

  9. Twistie

    All I know is that in the same age range, one of my brothers would have absolutely starved. From the time he was nine until he was about fifteen, his family nickname was ‘the bottomless pit’ because he could never get enough food to satisfy him. Why? Because he was growing like a weed, and growing uses up huge amounts of energy and calories. If kids approaching, entering, and just starting to leave adolescence don’t get more calories than their bodies need to grow with, they will never be able to concentrate in class, let alone play sports, take part in the arts, or do anything else constructive.

    Already in this country, more than one in five kids don’t have regular access to adequate meals, and we’re CUTTING the most reliable source of food for these kids all in the name of making sure kids don’t get fat. And you know what one of the best predictors of obesity other than genetics is? That’s right! FOOD RESTRICTION. The body doesn’t care whether it’s because of lack of funds, lack of access, lack of interest, or moral panic over waistlines: if people don’t get enough food, the body starts building fat cells to make it through the lean times until there’s more food available.

    I wish some of the moral crusaders against fat would take a look at real studies that have real science behind them instead of clutching vainly at their moral certainty that restriction is the answer, like the Pope insisting that Gallileo agree that the sun moves around the earth.

  10. erylin

    the kids at my school now are FORCED to take 1/2 cup of fruits and vegs whether they want it or not, to abide by the nutritional guidelines.

  11. BJ

    This is so far beyond stupid it’s escaping Stupid’s gravity well. “We don’t care if the kids get out of school with a solid base of knowledge or the ability to think logically and creativly; we’re focusing on their *health*.”

    • katja

      Amen. If only it were really “health” focused, alas it is misguided focusing on weight, not a proxy for health, but is treated as such.

  12. T

    I haven’t been keeping up with this topic, but I have to wonder why the calorie limit is 630. In Japan, for approximately the same age group (middle school in Japan starts and then ends a year later than it does in the US and includes ages 12-15), they aim for 1000 calories in a lunch. Sometimes it’s less than that, but I don’t ever remember seeing anything as low as 630. Even then they still have a problem with portions — I can remember some of my students complaining to me that they were still hungry when we had literally just finished lunch five minutes ago.

    And for the record, your average Japanese kid is getting well over 630 calories in his or her school lunch and is still quite slim. I’m not convinced that enforced slenderness is a good goal in schools (I much prefer a Health at Every Size model or any other similar health model that doesn’t focus on weight above all else), but for those who do care it’s something to consider. I would also point out that the majority of Japanese kids in elementary and middle school have the option of buying school lunch rather than packing their own, and the majority of those kids by school lunch.

    • katja

      And the Japanese are all so “overweight” it must be those gluttonous school lunches…Yay HAES! Would be nice, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. We are still barreling towards rock bottom with our zeal to restrict food in an effort to make people skinny. Won’t work, will make matters worse…

      • Robin

        The problem isn´t the calories per se.

        The problem is from where the calories come.

        Let us look at the school lunches in america.
        Mostly processed meats, processed grain products, bleached and devoid of natural vitamins,

        minerals and fiber.

        Now take a look at what japanese schools serve.

        A good ammount of vegetables(most vegetables have only 100-200kcal per kg), a bit of fruit,

        rice and some kind of good quality animal foods like a whole smale fish, grilled or a curry

        with chunks of meat and not ground up ‘meatmix scraps of thousands of different cows’ that

        would have normally been dumped as dog food, but in the USA the kids get it.

        And than the fats..not the good fat but hydrogenated, hardened-unnatural- fats which the

        body can not process and which clogs the arteries.

        Hydrogenated fats will also destroy antioxidants and omega3 fatty acids in the body..both

        are needed by the cells for proper digestion and to fire up the mitrochondrias who provide

        energy to the body.

        630 calorie lunches are good for kids from 5 to age 9(80 calories per kg bodyweight). 1000

        calories is good for most older kids (60-70 calories per kg bodyweight)

        • katja

          Good points, but with the Division of Responsibility, and knowing how children eat and have different needs, and the body’s ability to self-regulate, I reject the idea of how many calories a child “needs” at a given meal. 630 may be enough for some kids some days, and 1000 may not be enough for some kids some days. Perhaps using “portions” or calorie calculations as a starting point, but allowing children to decide how much they will eat is the key. I imagine the quality varies greatly, my daughter’s lunches are amazing. Nary a trans-fat, her typical meal might be Thai stir-fry with brown rice, fruit and veg, always a salad bar (except only fat-free dressing…) I’d love to see the schools that are already doing a great job left alone, and the schools that aren’t get help improving offerings. Alas, I don’t think the current lunch nutrition guidelines is very helpful overall. THank you so much for writing. The Japanese meals sound delish…