Federal

New School Lunch Rules Spur Student Protests

October 23, 2012 3 min read
Dressed as a pea pod, Anne Fritz, an intern with the Farm to School program in Eugene, Ore., encourages students to eat their vegetables during lunch at El Camino del Rio Elementary School in Eugene. Elsewhere around the country, though, some students are protesting the healthier lunches schools are required to serve as the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act kicks in.

Schools across the country are serving new cafeteria entreés and side dishes and lower-fat versions of flavored milk now that the regulations under the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act have kicked in. Despite the excitement some districts are trying to generate about the new meals, a few months into the revamped menus, some schools are facing criticism about what they’re serving—and how much of it.

Among the protests is one originating at Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kan., where students created a parody of “We Are Young,” by the band Fun, and posted it on YouTube. In the “We Are Hungry” parody, students bemoan the calorie limits set by the new regulations—a maximum of 850 calories for high school lunches. (Since that initial posting last month, the students have added a message saying they are excited about the opportunity to eat more fruits and vegetables, but insist that the meals they are served at their 70-student school are too small.) Their video received about a million views as of last week.

At Parsippanny Hills High School in Parsippany, N.J., students boycotted school lunches for several days. A high school principal in Mukwonago, Wisc., told The New York Times that school meal participation is down 70 percent this school year.

Are those schools outliers? Yes, says the School Nutrition Association.

Kenmari Williams, a 5th grader in Clinton, Miss., shows his dislike of the whole-wheat flatbread on his sandwich, one of the healthy changes his school has made to lunches under new federal school meal rules.

“While some schools are legitimately struggling to meet (and their students struggling to accept) these complex regulations, there are many school districts where students have welcomed or not even recognized the changes under the new standards,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the Oxon Hill, Md.-based SNA, said in an email.

Schools in Collegeville, Pa., and Montclair, N.J., for example, celebrated last week—National School Lunch Week—by putting out a spread of fresh fruits and vegetables for students to sample.

Time to Adapt

The new rules require a wider variety and more servings of fruits and vegetables at each meal, less salt, less fat, and more whole grains, and they set minimum and maximum calorie ranges for meals. Previously, there was no ceiling on calories.

Ms. Pratt-Heavner said what many parents can attest to: It takes time for young people to accept new foods, and sometimes they have to be presented repeatedly before children will try them.

But the early protests have prompted U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to introduce the No Hungry Kids Act, which would ban the USDA from implementing calorie limits in school lunches.

Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy for the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, said she didn’t think the bill would get much traction. The USDA’s plans for cutting back on potato servings and banning counting tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable serving, however, were thwarted by congressional action.

Last week, some Republican members of the U.S. House education committee asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to re-examine the new meal rules because of news reports about students going hungry, food being wasted, and increased costs for schools.

The National School Lunch Program was created because of concerns that many young men were too malnourished to serve in World War II. Now, one in three American children is obese, and the children who are so active their caloric needs exceed nutritional guidelines are outnumbered by their overweight counterparts.

The program’s premise is to feed low-cost or no-cost meals to children who otherwise might not have enough to eat. As children’s-food blogger Bettina Elias Siegel noted, many of the students protesting the new rules have the means to bring or buy their own meals, or supplement them.

The USDA’s rules about the calories and contents of school meals were developed on the basis of recommendations from the Institutes of Medicine—a federally chartered group that advises policymakers—and other experts. Pizza, fries, and other favorites are still available every day at many schools on unregulated a la carte menus. The 2010 federal law authorizes the USDA to regulate those items and what’s sold in school vending machines, but it hasn’t done so yet.

In any case, the agency said that if a school “encounters significant hardships employing the new calorie requirements, we stand ready to work with them quickly and effectively to remedy the situation with additional flexibilities.”

Nirvi Shah, Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2012 edition of Education Week as New School Lunch Rules Spur Student Protests

Events

School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Building Equitable Systems: Moving Math From Gatekeeper to Opportunity Gateway
The importance of disrupting traditional American math practices and adopting high-quality math curriculum continues to be essential for changing the trajectory of historically under-resourced schools. Building systems around high-quality math curriculum also is necessary to
Content provided by Partnership for L.A. Schools
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Measuring & Supporting Student Well-Being: A Researcher and District Leader Roundtable
Students’ social-emotional well-being matters. The positive and negative emotions students feel are essential characteristics of their psychology, indicators of their well-being, and mediators of their success in school and life. Supportive relationships with peers, school
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Miguel Cardona: Schools Must Work to Win Trust of Families of Color as They Reopen
As Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced new school reopening resources, he encouraged a focus on equity and student engagement.
4 min read
Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing Feb. 3, 2021.
Now-U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee during his confirmation hearing in February.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal CDC: Nearly 80 Percent of K-12, Child-Care Workers Have Had at Least One COVID-19 Shot
About four out of five teachers, school staffers, and child-care workers had first COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of March, CDC says.
2 min read
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11, 2021. Teachers received their first vaccine during an all-day event at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP
Federal Ed. Dept. to Review Title IX Rules on Sexual Assault, Gender Equity, LGBTQ Rights
The review could reopen a Trump-era debate on sexual assault in schools, and it could spark legal discord over transgender student rights.
4 min read
Symbols of gender.
iStock/Getty
Federal Q&A EdWeek Q&A: Miguel Cardona Talks Summer Learning, Mental Health, and State Tests
In an interview after a school reopening summit, the education secretary also addressed teachers' union concerns about CDC guidance.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17.
Andrew Harnik/AP