Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act Leaves Stomachs Rumbling

Posted on October 17, 2012 by

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Students at Fleetwood have definitely been noticing the drastic changes with the lunch menus starting this school year.

Many different parameters have been set in the school lunch menu dealing with subjects such as calorie intake, grain intake, and fruit and vegetable consumption.  New stages of these parameters are to be phased in until the year 2018. All of this has been in effect due to the national Healthy Hunger-Free Kids act that was approved in 2010.

In this program, the USDA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) reimburses the school lunch service a fixed rate for each meal served. The catch is, those lunches must meet government requirements.

If the school adheres to the updated requirements, they get a bonus federal cash reimbursement of six cents per lunch.

These new requirements, printed in the Reading Eagle on 9 September, require high school students to have ¾ to 1 cup of vegetables plus ½ to 1 cup of fruit per day, 1 cup (must be fat-free or 1% low fat) milk per day, 10 to 12 ounces of grain per week, and 10 to 12 ounces of protein per week. The school must also have weekly offerings of every vegetable subgroup (dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy, other), and at least half of grains must be whole grain-rich this year.  Next year, all grains must be whole grain-rich.

Due to these changes, there is only one entrée choice per day so that these government requirements can be kept in check more easily. Essentially, schools are being forced to eliminate choice.

Students can purchase a la carte supplements to their lunch, but the prices of these snacks have gone up, in some cases, drastically.

According to the National School Lunch Program information, “local school food authorities set their own prices for full-price (paid) meals, but must operate their meal services as non-profit organizations.” In short, the lunch service can set its own prices for meals and snacks.

In some cases, this is getting out of hand. For instance, a single packet of two saltine crackers is charged at $0.90, when the actual rate of purchase for a pack of 500 packs of Lance saltine crackers runs at about $20.00, rendering a single pack of two crackers only about $0.04.

This extra $0.86 cents goes into the school food service budget, where it is spent on paying the employees and purchasing more food for the lunches.

How much revenue does the food service make?

Figure about 80% of kids purchase a full-priced lunch at $2.25, the rest pack or qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches, so there are about 640 kids in this 80% range at Fleetwood who will generate roughly $1,440 per day just with each of them buying a $2.25 lunch. Then, because their lunches qualified for the USDA government regulations, the lunch service is reimbursed $0.27 per lunch, generating around $172.80 per day.

Because all the lunches also meet the new government regulations, the lunch service gets $0.06 more per lunch, generating $38.40 per day. At the end of the day, the food service at Fleetwood takes in around $1,651.12.

By the end of a work-week month, they have made an educated estimate of roughly $33,024, excluding any teachers buying lunch or any snacks that were purchased.

What percentage goes towards paying the employees and what percentage goes towards buying good-quality food? It should be public record, but in the end, the money is available to purchase good quality, fresh food.

Here, the question arises: Are students paying this money for quality? In a recent poll taken of school lunch servers, all eight of them present agreed that school lunches are, in fact, healthy.

Students may disagree with this data. Fruit choices include Slushies, which are 100% fruit juice but are still high in sugar content (the Blue Raspberry flavor contains 17 grams of sugar), and canned fruit in syrup with very limited fresh fruit options.

Vegetable choices include iceberg lettuce, which is known to have about as much nutritional value as cardboard with slightly more water content, and canned and frozen vegetables with limited fresh vegetable choices.

Legumes (beans) are also considered a vegetable, when they are technically a protein option, and corn is also considered a vegetable, when it is a starch. Carbohydrate choices include smiley fries, tater tots, french fries, and hash browns, which are high in fat and sodium content even if they’re baked.

Students are also thoroughly appalled at the grain and protein restrictions.  This especially affects athletes attempting to consume the nutrients that will benefit them come game time. Though, a similar question also arises: Are students paying for quantity?

Unfortunately, this answer tends to be no. While students are in essence forced to have a fruit and vegetable on their tray to lessen the cost of their lunch, these items tend to be dumped in the nearest trash can.

“The government has taken a scientific approach, and science doesn’t always work in reality,” food service coordinator Jeff Woodall said.

Woodall also agrees the school lunches are healthy but, the idea of it is not a quick fix but a long-term solution. Throughout the phases of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, students are supposed to learn what healthy eating habits are, and that won’t be changing in a single year.

In the meantime, Fleetwood kids should attempt to embrace the changes to get the most out of their school lunch experience, though many have now resorted to packing their own lunches.

Posted in: Freelance