This year marks the implementation of new federal guidelines meant to make the food offered in school cafeterias healthier nationwide. As a result, many schools have reworked their lunch menus to include items like whole grains and more fruit, and to eliminate items that contain too much sugar and sodium. According to Fox News, the calorie content of the meals has also been changed to fall in line with the age-aligned maximum and minimum set out by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All in all, this seems to be an attempt by the government to deal with the growing problem of childhood obesity in the U.S. — But is it working?
Not very well, if the experience at Mukwonago High School in Wisconsin is anything to go by. Last Monday, nearly 70% of the school’s 830 students boycotted the lunch offered in the school’s cafeteria. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the boycott was joined by the district’s middle-schoolers and the number of lunches sold that day fell by half. According to the same story, the situation in Mukwonago School District doesn’t seem to be unique.
One such student from Mukwonago High, Nick Blohm, said the healthier food is not so much the problem as it is portion size. A 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound linebacker, Blohm said he burns around 3,000 calories during three hours of football practice and weight training. He’s also the class president, and he’s taking various Advanced Placement classes. But the new caps, he said, are making it harder to perform both physically and academically.
“A lot of us are starting to get hungry even before the practice begins,” Blohm told the Journal Sentinel. “Our metabolisms are all sped up.”
To add insult to injury, the students are now forced to pay more for the lunches they feel are inadequate. As part of the new regulations, the USDA mandated a $.10 price increase to set it in line with the $2.85 the federal government reimburses schools for the lunches of students who qualify for the free school lunch program. As a result, lunches now cost $2.50 rather than $2.40.
The discontent of the students is matched by the feelings of the administrators. Everyone agrees that the problem of childhood obesity must be handled somehow, but they also believe that the changes introduced were both too abrupt and didn’t take into account the nutritional needs of the students.
“I could not be more passionate about this,” Pam Harris, the Mukwonago district food service supervisor and a registered dietitian, told the Journal Sentinel. “I want to solve this problem. But limiting calories in school lunch is not going to help the overweight kid. What happens at home is a major piece of that puzzle.”