Student lunch menus look a little different this year thanks to new federal guidelines.
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, part of which went into effect this year, requires more fresh fruit and vegetables on the daily lunch tray. It also limits the amounts of breads and proteins that can be offered, often shrinking the size of student entrees.
The changes are getting mixed reviews from students, staff and parents.
Carol Semrau, USD 231 nutritional services director, said she hasn’t heard a single complain from patrons or students.
“(The students) are discovering red peppers, cherry tomatoes, Romaine and fresh spinach salds and of course, they love the carrots and cucumbers,” Semrau said.
In accordance with the regulations, caloric intake is figured by age group, and they detail how many ounces of meat and grains can be offered daily and weekly; how much fruit can be offered weekly and daily; how many green, leafy vegetables, orange-red vegetables and starchy vegetables can be offered each week; and requires that a half-cup of legumes be offered each week.
Ty Banka, a junior at Gardner Edgerton High School said the new regulations probably aren’t stopping students from eating junk food. On Monday, Banka had two orders of chicken strips, an order of French fries, a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, milk, five or six cucumber slices “with ranch poured on top and a little tiny scoop of fruits.”
Both orders of chicken strips were ala carte items, and Banka added ice cream and cookies when he finished
“Man, I was hungry,” the athletic junior explained.
That’s the concern for the Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus.
Lunch rules are different for elementary, middle, and high school students. Not all students have extra funds to buy extra food, if they’re still hungry. For example, more than 30 percent of USD 231 students are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, which helps pay for lunches, but not ala carte menu items.
Baccus recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking that the regulations be reconsidered.
“As you know, the new guidelines place a ceiling on the amount of proteins and the overall calorie content of school lunches,” Bauccus wrote. “While there have always been minimum requirements for these and other nutrients, the ceiling results in some youngsters leaving the lunchroom hungry.”
Christine Splichal, communications director for the Spring Hill School District, said she’s heard grumblings from parents and students.
“We are encouraging students and parents to send their feedback to legislators as this was done at the federal level,” Splichal said. “The only way to affect change is to get that feedback to the right people.”
The USD 230 newsletter encourages parents to send their concerns to Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts. In the meantime, Spring Hill’s nutrition department is adjusting school lunch menus so additional condiments can be added back to the menu.
“Like dipping sauces for your chicken strip,” she explained.
Spring Hill Elementary students seemed to enjoy their lunch on Monday. The school served ham and cheese sandwiches on a whole wheat bun, two potato wedges and fresh produce including 12 grapes and three large broccoli florets. Fat-free ranch, light mayonnaise and ketchup packets were also available.
Splichal admits, however, that most complaints are from older students and their parents. The Spring Hill High School newspaper will publish an article in its next issue featuring student reactions to the lunch changes.
The school lunch program was initially designed so that students from lower-income families could receive at least one hot, nutritious meal each day.
Baucus worried in his letter that the one-size-fits-all approach may be doing just the opposite.
“Those with a more active lifestyle may also need more protein than others,” Baccus wrote in his letter. “Let’s not send them away from the school cafeteria hungry.”