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Learning to Adapt

Students trying to get used to new federal lunch guidelines

December 3, 2012
By ARTHUR CLEVELAND , The Leader Herald

Fonda-Fultonville High School junior Ethan Gifford sat down to eat his lunch at school last week.

He had a pizza made with flat bread, sauce and a little cheese, low-fat milk and an apple.

He wasn't satisfied.

Article Photos

Gloversville High School senior Cody Valentine gets his lunch in the cafeteria last week. School lunches have changed
because of new federal guidelines.
Bill Trojan
The Leader-Herald

Gifford, like other students across the country, is trying to get used to eating healthier lunches under the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Many schools, including Fonda-Fultonville, started complying with the new regulations this school year.

"They have less of a selection," said Bryan Lafoe, a Fonda-Fultonville High School junior, referring to students' menu choices.

"The food just doesn't taste good at all," he said.

The new guidelines allow only low-fat and fat-free milk, mandatory daily requirements of fruits and vegetables, a maximum amount of meat daily, and limits on calorie levels.

For kindergarten to fifth-graders, a maximum of 650 calories is allowed per meal. Sixth- to eighth-graders are allowed 700 calories, and ninth- through 12th-graders are allowed a maximum of 850 calories.

"That's a major change for children," said Fran O'Donnell, coordinator for child nutrition at the New York State Education Department.

Schools must follow these guidelines, said O'Donnell, because they are linked to funding of the National School Lunch Program, which provides millions of free and reduced-price lunches every day.

"For the first time in history, through the HHFK Act, Congress directly linked additional federal resources for schools to adhere to new, updated nutrition guidelines," O'Donnell said in a letter to school food service directors. "It is appropriate that federal taxpayer dollars be spent on providing kids with a balanced, healthy meal and it also is mandated by law."

O'Donnell said the new dietary guidelines are supported by physicians.

She said the requirements for calorie intake are acceptable for a lunch, but students who require more if they play sports or work after school should bring a snack.

"They are expected that they will have another meal," she said.

She said the new guidelines will take time to get used to.

Some students across the nation have been speaking out against the new meals. Some have posted complaints on websites and blogs, and some are bringing their own lunches to school as a boycott to the healthier school meals.

Fonda-Fultonville has seen a drop in school lunch purchases this school year.

Interim Superintendent Patrick Michel said during a November school board meeting that compared to the same period in 2011, the total number of meals served through the school lunch program between September and mid-November dropped by almost 12,000.

In 2011, 47,515 meals were served over 49 days at Fonda-Fultonville. This year, the number was 35,736 over the same period.

O'Donnell suggested several ways to offer appealing and filling school meals, such as using potato-based breading, entree salads, and desserts such as fruited gelatin. She also suggested using herbs, spices or low-sodium sauces to add flavor to the food.

Some students at Fonda-Fultonville said the regulations require them to take a half-cup of fruit with every meal, and some of that gets wasted.

"I'd eat the fruit here if it wasn't swimming," Fonda-Fultonville junior Arhianna Fleres said while shaking a sealed fruit cup.

Small apples also are available.

Students at the Gloversville Enlarged School District are having an easier time getting used to the new guidelines because that district previously started serving lunches that meet the requirements.

Teal Carpenter, food service director for the Gloversville Enlarged School District, said few changes were needed.

"We had already started to use grain products, not whole- grain products, but wheat bread and rolls, two or three years ago," Carpenter said. "We were already ahead of the game."

This year, Carpenter said, more than half the grain products needed to be whole grain, so they began to use whole- grain pastas.

"We opted to get the better brands so kids were more accepting of it," Carpenter said.

There were some problems early on with variety, such as coming up with ways to give the children what they wanted and still remain in the guidelines, he said.

"The hardest part this year was complying with the regulations in grade school where we can't give them a sandwich with two slices of bread every day," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said school officials got around this problem by creating peanut butter sandwiches using tortilla or flat breads.



U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, who represents Fulton and Hamilton counties, has been hearing complaints about the new lunch guidelines.

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, Owens said he had concerns.

While he did vote to approve the new lunch measure, he said the law has been counter-intuitive. He said he believes some students are bringing home-packed lunches rather than eating what the schools are serving.

"In light of this, I urge you to review the calorie rule, and in particular, to take into account the input of school districts, parents and students," said Owens, a Democrat who recently was re-elected to Congress. "This unfortunately looks like a too-frequent situation in which federal government implements a rule that does not work on the ground."

Program supported

In a letter to the editor in October to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Karen Derusha of Healthy Schools NY said, "With 31 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, and one out of every three children in America overweight or obese, it was time for a change. As a result, the nutrition standards for school meals have been updated for the first time in 15 years."

The letter also said, "Many of our local school districts have been making steady incremental changes toward healthier meals year after year. Your child's school may need some support in implementing these healthy standards. Adults can be a positive role model for students. Parents can help by reinforcing healthy eating at home and encourage children to try new menu options at school."



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