By Lelina Chang
Complete school lunch—According to the Hunger-Free Act of 2010, a full lunch consists of a serving of grain, one fresh fruit, a serving of protein, a serving of steamed vegetables, a salad, milk, and juice or a cup of fruit. Photo by Lelina Chang
Year after year, school lunch seems to land in the list of top ten problems to fix in school. Students complain that school lunch is too tasteless, too disgusting, too un-fresh, or too expensive. However, after this year’s final nutrition standards in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs have set in, students have been more dissatisfied about school lunches than they have ever been. Students from South and schools all across the nation feel deprived by Michelle Obama’s new lunch policy, which has resulted in much smaller lunch portions.
Michelle Obama’s newly implemented policy, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, aims to improve “nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in school” by giving the USDA the authority to establish requirements for foods sold in school. New regulations under Michelle Obama’s policy have been finalized and implemented this year. School cafeterias across the nation are now required to comply with these new national food regulations. New requirements include an increase in whole grain rich grains (bread, pasta, bagels), larger portions of fruits and vegetables, a reduction of sodium content by over 50%, and an 850 calorie limit for high school students.
According to Ms. Patricia Daley, director of food and nutrition services for Great Neck, this is the first time that there has been a regulation to limit calories. In previous years, there have only been regulations on the minimum calorie count of lunches. Small changes in school lunch have been gradually implemented since 2010, but this year federal regulations have finally been set in stone, which explains the drastic change in lunch portion size.
These new regulations are based on science. The medical community and the dietary guidelines for Americans were taken into account for many changes. “There are other programs throughout the country that still serve coke and candy during lunch. Some states did not follow the guidelines presented since 1987 like New York did; [therefore], in order to be proactive with the obesity situation, federal regulations for school lunches have been implemented,” said Daley.
Changes in South’s school lunch include fat free and 1% low fat milk instead of whole milk, whole grain breads instead of white bread, turkey instead of beef tacos, chicken nuggets made of whole muscle instead of ground-up meat, much smaller bagels (slightly smaller than a mini bagel), and romaine lettuce instead of iceberg lettuce.
Not only is the cafeteria serving more fruits and vegetables, but now it is also being mandated to require that a student who walks away with lunch must have a fruit or a vegetable on his or her tray. The USDA defines a meal as three out of five of the following components: dairy, grain, fruit, vegetable, and protein.
Despite how healthy school lunches have become, students still complain that the food portions are not large enough to get them through their rigorous school schedules packed with sports, clubs, and other activities. Vice President of Student Government Matt Zeiger said, “Students need the energy to stay alert and focused throughout the day. Bring back the source of the energy, and students will be able to perform to their best ability during school.”
Students who are struggling the most with the new policy seem to be athletes. According to Assistant Principal John Duggan, “One student who complained about the new lunches is a runner. His calorie intake must be higher than what it is. He needs to buy two or three lunches to get through the day.”
Sophomore Joseph Hong said, “I am a swimmer, and besides that I’m a teen. So I’m always hungry; those tiny portions make it hard for me to fill my stomach.”
Due to dissatisfaction with the new school lunch, an increasing number of students bring homemade lunches or extra snacks. However, the lunches from home do not necessarily meet federal guidelines. This unintended consequence undermines the original goal of the policy because students are now eating more unregulated meals.
Sophomore Christine A. said, “[Although] more fruits and vegetables will help to some extent, limiting calorie intake means smaller portions, which will then cause kids to buy unhealthy snacks. We are high school children, going through puberty, growing and developing. It makes no sense that we need to buy two lunches to be satisfied in the place where we’re supposed to be growing, physically, mentally, and emotionally, the most.”
“[What] we feed students for lunch isn’t the reason for obesity in this country. I don’t think the federal government should be involved in what schools serve. Schools know what kids should or should not eat,” said Mr. Duggan. “If we make you eat a really small lunch here, is that going to stop you from eating a donut when you go home?”
According to Principal Susan Elliott, “There is always that danger of the one-size-fits-all mentality.” For example, a growing boy on the football team has different nutritional needs than a girl who does not participate in a sport.
Daley believes that the reason why students are “hungry” is that they do not take the full lunch. “A lot of kids are just not used to eating vegetables and fruits, so this new regulation may seem painful to them,” said Daley. She encourages every student who buys school lunch to take the full meal: main dish, milk, vegetables, and fruits.
Daley, however, believes that the biggest dilemma people are facing is how abruptly the changes were implemented. “It’s culture shock,” said Daley. “There was a failure to notify people about the change, there was not enough time given to manufacturers to make foods that comply with regulations, and there just wasn’t enough time to educate the people or staff about why changes were implemented.”
These new regulations have not only brought frustration to students at South, but also to students from schools across the nation. In an attempt to change federal regulations, students from Wallace County High School in Kansas protested Michelle Obama’s new Healthy, Hunger-Free Act by singing a parody of “We are Young” by Fun. They call their song, “We are Hungry.” The video depicts hungry and weak students falling asleep in class, falling down during sports practice, and hiding stashes of food in lockers. Their video has gone viral and has received over one million hits on YouTube.
South’s Student Government addressed this lunch issue by creating a School Lunch Committee. The committee is open to all students who wish to express any concerns about school lunch and/or solutions. The committee aims to write a letter to Michelle Obama and Congress about grievances students at South have with the new lunch policy.
For now, students at South are encouraged to take full advantage of the lunch options available and are also encouraged to suggest any ideas for meals. Although there is very little wiggle room for change because of the new calorie restrictions, the food and nutrition department is very open to any suggestions that may alleviate any dissatisfaction students have with school lunch.