New Federal Food Standards Are Leaving School Kids Feeling Hungry And Frustrated
September 26, 2012

New Federal Food Standards Are Leaving Kids Feeling Hungry And Frustrated

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

New federal food regulations have gone into effect in schools across the country beginning this year. But many students have complained that they are still left with a feeling of hunger after lunch time. The issue has even triggered a YouTube video, created by two teachers and several high school students in Kansas, singing “We Are Hungry” as they try to make it through the school day.

The new school food standards, first championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and passed by Congress in 2010, limit school lunches to no more than 850 calories, just a tick over the old rules, which saw most school lunch programs serving a minimum of 825 calories per meal. For some school students, 850 calories is not enough to sustain them throughout the day.

“We hear them complaining around 1:30 or 2:00 that they are already hungry,” said Linda O'Connor, a high school English teacher at Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kansas, and co-creator of the YouTube hit, which has already been viewed more than 225,000 times. “It's all the students, literally all the students... you can set your watch to it.”

Students at St. Mark's Charter School in Colwich, Kansas are among those protesting the new regulations, which limit their calories to between 600 and 700 per meal. Many students are reacting by bringing their own lunches from home, lunches that offer them enough energy to get by. Elementary lunches pack even less calories, no more than 650, as opposed to the minimum 633-calorie intake under the old rules.

“We had chicken nuggets one day. Last year, we got six, and this year, we only got three,” complained Callahan Grund of Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kansas, who is featured in the new video.

“We had pork cutlets the other day, and that was really small compared to last year,” Grund, a 16-year-old football player at Wallace, told Amy Bingham at ABC News.

The new government nutrition standards require schools to serve more variety and a larger helping of fruits and vegetables. And for the first time, calorie-intake is limited. The old standards set a daily minimum of 1.5 to 2 ounces of meat or meat alternative. Now there is a daily minimum, as well as a weekly maximum on grains and proteins. So now, high school students must be served at least 2 ounces of meat or meat alternative in a single day, but no more than 12 ounces in a single week (roughly 2.4 ounces per day maximum). And younger kids get less.

By far the biggest issue with the new school lunch rules is the reduced amount of protein from meat compared to previous years, according to Brenda Kirkham, art teacher at Wallace County High, and also a co-creator of the “We Are Hungry” video.

“We wanted to give kids a voice and make fun of something that´s very frustrating for us -- but not be over-the-top angry,” she explained.

The issue might be frustrating for teachers and their students, but nutrition experts are calling the standards necessary.

Before the updated standards were put into place, some schools were serving excessive amounts of protein to keep school kids happy, “but none of us need as much protein as a lot of us eat,” offered Leah Schmidt, president-elect of the School Nutrition Association and director of Nutrition Services for Hickman Mills School District in Kansas City, Missouri.

Besides meat and meat alternatives, protein can be consumed through milk and legumes, she added.

“It´s an outdated idea that kids aren´t getting enough protein -- most kids are eating twice the recommended amount,” acknowledged Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that fought for the healthier school meals.

A diet of 850 calories at lunch time is enough for most high school students, she said. “Not all students are linebackers, and we shouldn´t feed them like they are.”

Not so, says Sally Young, a Montana School Nutrition Association executive board member and food service manager at Greenfield Elementary School.

In rural communities, some kids are on the bus by 7 a.m., have school all day and then participate in extra-curricular school activities, some not getting home until well after 7 p.m., she noted.

Serving 2 ounces of meat per day is insane, Young said. “You can´t make a quarter-pound hamburger with 2 ounces of bread 2 ounces of meat,” Young said. “A 2-ounce hamburger – you can just imagine.”

Getting kids to eat more fruits and veggies is fine, she noted, “but kids cannot survive on 2 ounces of carbs and protein a day.” Unlimited fruits and vegetables is fine, but that isn´t enough for most children.

She added that the new rules do not allow for the varied nutritional needs of students.

Some students, like a high school footballer, might burn 3,000 calories in a single day, especially if he has other chores he is adding to his daily routine. If he isn´t getting that requirement from the school lunch program, he is going to look to other unhealthier choices, like vending machines for junk food, Young said.

Dave Puyear, executive director of the Montana Rural Education Association, said the new rules are “absolutely terrible” and are “grossly discriminatory against rural schools and rural communities.”

“Rural children rely much more heavily on the school lunch program,” he said. “They have to.”

“The rules might fit Chicago or inner city Los Angeles, but I´m not certain they´re appropriate for rural Montana, where kids are working hard and involved in so many after-school activities,” he added.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the new dietary standards are a "rude awakening" for schoolchildren across the country. Along with Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, King introduced the "No Kids Hungry Act" this month to repeal the new lunch menu standards and prohibit the calorie limits.

“Kids are of varying sizes, activity levels and metabolism rates,” King wrote in a Des Moines Register op-ed. “How can we expect each child to flourish and grow on subsistence diets? This all because some are overweight.”

But Kristi King, a registered pediatric dietician at Texas Children's Hospital and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said kids should be feeling fuller with the new standards.

The standards have doubled the amount of fruit and veggies that are served and ordered that half of all bread products be served as whole grain. All of these food types are loaded with fiber, which takes longer to digest, said King.

“It should be making kids fuller if they are actually consuming the whole product,” King said. “If children are not picking the entire meal available to them they are obviously going to be hungry.”

But Mary Hill, the executive director of food services at Jackson Public School District, said her district has been easing into the new standards by serving more fruits and vegetables a few years ago, before the standards went into effect.

She said students there have adjusted and no complaints have surfaced.

“To me, if you hear that grumbling it's that typical grumbling with children“¦You know children will be children,” she said.