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.
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.