For all the talk of boycotts and YouTube campaigns speaking out against the calorie limits instituted by the new federal lunch program, the transition at Yellow Medicine East High School actually seems to be going pretty good.
“I think there was a lot negativity in the media so there was a preconceived notion of how it was going to be,” said Yellow Medicine East Food Service Director Val Wensauer. “Personally, I think it has been successful. I don’t know if the kids would say that, but I think it has been.”
As Food Service Director, it has been Wensauer’s responsibility to the lead the food serve staff in the implementation of the new federal lunch room guidelines. It would seem an unenviable position to be in––intermediary between federal mandates and those who are impacted by them––but she seems to be taking things in stride.
“It’s been a challenge to put it all together. To make sure that the grade groups are in the right categories with the appropriate food requirements,” Wensauer said. “But we’ve always had regulations to follow. It’s just a little bit more complicated now writing menus because of all we have to consider.”
As for her role as intermediary, Wensauer said that she has received plenty of feedback both positive and negative about the new guidelines during her day-to-day interactions within the lunch room. Only a few phone calls, typically revolving around inquiries into the calorie, or smaller portion, issue have come from parents.
“Usually that’s what I hear is, “more, more” but overall I think people are becoming more accepting of everything,” she said. “We just encourage kids to take more fruits, take more vegetables. They can have as many of those as they want. Or they can still purchase seconds.”
While Wensauer has no control over the amount of a particular item that is served to students, the food service staff at least has a say in which meals those calories take form.
“We play with the menu and see what works. We know what the kids do and don’t like, and when it is something they like we get a lot bigger count on days that are iffy.”
The A/T spoke to a small sample of students about their personal perceptions regarding the meals. While missing the decadence of some of the lunch items of old, most seemed to think the food is on par, if not better that of previous years.
“I think this year’s food tastes better than last year’s because I’m used to eating healthy at home,” said senior Gabrielle Thomas.
Page 2 of 2 - “They have more nutritious stuff,” piped in sophomore Makayla Rokusek. “They have a salad bar where you can actually get a full salad, which you couldn’t do before because you had to have an entree with it.”
Still, there were qualms with a few of the directives, particularly those comprised of or containing low fat versions of cheese, salad dressings and the like. “I think they need to change the ranch dressing because it’s just like water and it’s gross.”
Eighth grader Austin Steckelbeerg and Senior Nate Anderson each spoke to the common issue of quantity restrictions.
“Usually I’m tired when I come to school because I don’t get enough energy. They could at least give us more food,” Steckelbeerg said.
“It’s not enough to fill me up,” assured Anderson. “That’s why I usually go out. Otherwise, I‘m still hungry afterward.”
As a high schooler, Anderson is afforded the opportunity leave campus to purchase lunch whereas Steckelbeerg, and fellow classmates eighth grade on down, either have to just make do or bring their own bag.
Because of the smaller quantities Anderson said that he has been eating out with much greater frequency than in years past. And it appears to be a trend for the high school overall, as lunch program participation has dropped daily average attendance from around 140 high school students last year, to 120 this present year.
While not appealing, Wensauer said the drop is not a surprise. “The older kids are more familiar with what they’ve always had and are less willing to let go of it,” she said. “The younger kids, on the other hand, are much more accepting of changes. And typically, they’re pretty satisfied with what we put on the plate for them.”
As the upperclassmen graduate over the next few years, the legacy of the old school lunch program is bound to fade into memory. And in Wensauer’s eyes, it’s about time.
“It’s like with your own family, you like to see the kids picking healthy foods and eating them,” she said. “So I think it’s good. I think it’s time that schools stepped up and taught kids to think about what they’re eating, and how they can eat a little more healthy than they have in the past.