Tag Archives: USDA

US Students say ‘We are hungry’.

Several weeks in to the new school year and whilst many schools are reporting success with the new healthier lunches, not all students are happy with them – in particular the restricted calorie counts.

Kansas school children say ‘set the policy on fire’.

The new rules say that all meals must include at least one fruit or vegetable whether the child will eat it or not, and many kids will take their fruit portion but then drop it straight into the garbage. Grains are switched to 50% wholegrain and from 2014 all will be wholegrain. Carbohydrates and protein is restricted and all milk is fat free or reduced fat.

The changes are part of the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids bill which came into law earlier this year and is designed to get kids eating far more healthily and to help curb frightening levels of child obesity in the US, but the calorie restrictions are a big change to what many kids are used to.

For kindergarten to 5th grade children the calories are set at 550 – 650 calories, 6th to 8th grade children get between 600 and 700 calories, and 9th to 12th grade teens are served meals of between 750 to 850 calories.

There have been some fantastic early success stories, like the Nebraska schools which have been recognised and awarded for reaching the gold standard in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge. Kitchen staff now all wear gold pins and the students were told by the USDA regional administrator that she would tell Washington politicians about their story.

Seven Lincoln district schools have all been recognised not only for their healthier lunches but also for their excellent wellbeing programmes and physical education.

But elsewhere some children are unhappy with their lunches. A CNN report here details how a Capac, Michigan school boy started posting pictures of his lunches to Facebook and began a boycott of the school cafeteria.

Similarly in Parsippanny New Jersey 1,000 students boycotted their school canteen bringing lunch bags instead. The children say they are left hungry by their restricted calorie meals. Moves like this could be disastrous for school caterers who will need to act fast to change things around or face big financial losses.

Meanwhile a YouTube music video called We Are Hungry has received almost a million hits. The video which is a spoof of the song We Are Young was put together by students at a Kansas school who say their new meals are not filling and they go home feeling hungry.

UK caterers have faced a similar – well publicised – early backlash to healthier school meals. Perhaps they can offer their US counterparts some advice on how to cope with bad news stories like this and act quickly to get their students back on side and in the dining halls.

We Are Hungry

What calorie restrictions?

Having posted today about the calorie restrictions the USDA have imposed on school lunches in the United States, and chatted on Twitter with Victoria McGowan a PhD candidate at Durham University who is studying the relationship between school food and childhood obesity, I thought I would post this short clip taken from a BBC 2 documentary this week called Eat, Fast, and Live Longer which investigated whether a diet that included fasting or extreme calorie restriction could have dramatic effects on a person’s weight and health.

This restaurant in the United States is doing the exact opposite of what the USDA is doing with school meals. In fact they have a burger combo that boasts a ridiculous 10,000 calories. They are un-shamefaced about how unhealthy their food is, and believe it’s their right to eat badly if they choose to, but is it? Do people have a right to regularly eat like this and then expect treatment for their inevitable health problems? A can of worms, and perhaps more so in the UK where health care is largely free. Is this restaurant irresponsible in its ethos? (Click on the ‘Unhealthiest Restaurant’ link below the pic to watch the clip.)

10,000 calorie burger

Unhealthiest Restaurant

New year, new food.

In the United States, August brings the start of the new school year and with it the biggest changes to school food for 15 years.

In January this year First Lady Michelle Obama alongside Tom Vilsack the Agriculture Secretary signed off on new nutrition standards for school meals which will be phased in over the next three years and aim to improve the health and diet of nearly 32 million school children. It should have a massive impact on the health of the nation.

The crucial targets for the changes are:

  • Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week;
  • Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
  • Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties;
  • Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and
  • Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.


More fruit and veg

Schools caterers have been working hard to ensure that when the new school year begins they were able to meet the new menu recommendations, and their UK counterparts can empathise with what a tall order that can be.

In Georgia and Ohio some children have already been getting a taste of the new menus. There are fears that some will struggle with the strict portion and calorie controls. Schools must show compliance or risk losing subsidies.

Although items like pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers are still available, all children are required to take at least one serving of fruit or vegetables per meal, and portion sizes of these are much larger. Additionally it’s a chance for schools to source from local suppliers and teach kids about the provenance of their food.

As UK school caterers who’ve been battling to improve meal uptakes since their own changes came into being know, winning the hearts and minds of children – and parents – is more than half the battle, so US schools will be trying a wide array of inventive methods to get kids trying and eating their new meals.

We’ll watch with interest to see what happens in the United States as more schools grapple with the standards and the school year progresses. Perhaps some UK caterers can share some of their best tips for getting the students to keep eating their lunches.


Here are some of the details for the new US standards.

Calorie limits are set for meals: grades k-5, 550-650 calories; grades 6-8, 600-700 calories; grades 9-12, 750-850 calories.

Schools must offer dark green vegetables, orange/red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, eliminate all added trans-fats and serve only 1 percent or nonfat milk. Under the new regulations all grains – in breads and pastas – must be “whole grain rich.”

To read more about the new standards, visit the USDA website here.