Students got their first taste of the new federal guidelines for school lunches when they returned to school this fall. Since then it seems kids just haven't been able to get enough of the new lunches, which isn't necessarily a good thing.
In January, the United States Department of Agriculture released the first revisions of the program in 15 years in large part as a response to the growing obesity epidemic.
"When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won't be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home," said first lady Michelle Obama during a statement made alongside Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack introducing the standards.
The new regulations increase servings of grain, fruits and vegetables, while dialing back on sodium, fat and carbs. In addition, per meal calorie limits have been implemented, which is a first in the program's history.
At first glance students would have noticed little difference. Sure, the removal of classically fried (as opposed to baked) french fries registered, but in many respects the big-ticket menu items read similar to that of preceding years––especially if one assumes an entree like a 2012 burger is the same as a burger served in 2011. Which it is not. Served on a bun of whole grain, devoid of "pink sludge" and sized-down in radius, the 2012 burger is very much its own entree.
As a side dish, federal guidelines require each lunch include a half a cup of fruits and vegetables per day for elementary school students, three quarters of a cup for students in grades six through eight, and a full cup for high-school students.
Whatever the combo, lunch-goers will be looking at a plate of 650 calories for younger students, and 850 for those in high school. The caps must be adhered to without exception or the school faces losing its meal federal meal reimbursement. This means students cannot return for a second burger nor fill up on the likes of bread and rice. Only fruits and vegetables are offered without limit.
Federal reimbursement rates rose this year by 6 cents per lunch to help schools cover the expected $3.2 billion cost of implementing new lunch and breakfast standards over the next five years. New requirements for breakfast will begin to phase in next year.
The new tastes have required some getting used to and cafeteria workers are inevitably still experimenting to find out that which is most appealing for the student body. Overall, the sense here is that both parties are having success zeroing in on the larger palate pleasers.
The same can't be said for the calorie limits, however. If there is one area of persistent, wide-spread contention amongst students, parents and school staff, it has had to do with portions that must be consistently sized whether served to a six foot 200 pound athlete or a 120 pound professional student.
Page 2 of 2 - Several school student bodies have boycotted school lunches in response to the calorie cap, while others have campaigned against it utilizing YouTube, Facebook and like avenues. And yet to this refrain of "We're hungry" the USDA has stood firm, essentially giving students the option of filling up on no-limit fruits and vegetables, bringing additional food from home or purchasing offerings on or off campus, if permitted. Otherwise, students are permitted to purchase a second meal from the cafeteria, as well.