Our student body--especially at the high school--seems to have complaints and concerns this year about the lunches being served as part of the school's food service program. More accurately, the majority of the complaints are about not getting enough to eat. I would like to explain what has happened and how we are approaching the students' concerns, some of which are valid.
On Dec. 13, 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and it became law. According to Wikipedia, "This bill is part of the reauthorization of funding for child nutrition and sets new nutrition standards for schools. The new nutrition standards have been a major cause of First Lady Michelle Obama in her fight against childhood obesity."
This new federal law impacts schools, mainly in two main ways - 1) school lunch programs are receiving an additional six cents per meal served. However, 2) in order to receive the additional six cents per meal served there are new standards that need to be met for food sold in lunches during the regular day. It may be surmised that creation of the new law was influenced by the fact that nearly one-third of children and two-thirds of adults in the United States are obese or overweight.
Increasing the emphasis on low-fat cheese and milk, adding fruits and vegetables to meals, serving more dry beans and peas, and serving more whole grains are changes mandated in school lunch programs because of the HHFKA. In addition, food service staff is now required to limit saturated and trans fat and cut back on sodium content. Finally, a caloric cap is in place for each school lunch served.
A major challenge with new federal regulations is the cap on the number of calories that a school lunch meal can include, especially when there is minimal variance between the maximum number of calories allowed for a lunch served to a kindergarten student and a senior high student. For example, a sixth grader's lunch is capped at 700 calories while a senior high student's lunch is capped at 850 calories. These are the maximum number of calories for a school lunch. Another challenge these new regulations impose is limiting condiments for students, since ketchup and ranch dressing have been popular with students for as long as I have been an educator--new regulations now allow these only on a limited basis.
In my opinion, the new federal regulations are flawed and based on the assumption that all children have the same calorie requirements. They also fail to take into account that students are not all the same --some are taller and some get more activity than others get (and therefore require additional calories). Have you seen the height difference between some of our sixth grade and twelfth grade students? The United States Department of Agriculture now recommends that a student with a higher caloric need eat between four to six smaller meals each day, or meals that are lower in calories.
Not all of the new regulations are negative. The increased emphasis on fruits and vegetables is good, and we allow students to have UNLIMITED fruits and vegetables during lunch. In addition, the regulations encourage expanding the use of Farm to School initiatives, which fits well with a lot of work already done by food service staff and our agriculture classes.
I continue to be impressed with the work our food service staff does each day. To prepare and serve close to 900 lunches each day during a rotation of grades and classes with not much time in between the next "mad rush" is not an enviable task, and staff does it well. I am confident they will continue to strive to meet the new federal regulations, yet also work to address as many student concerns as they can.
If you have questions or need more information about the Morris Area School District, please contact Scott Monson at 589-4840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.