Nationwide law brings healthy eating to FHSD lunches

By Nick Ponche

The Problem

A number of changes have been made to the school lunch menu this year. Grilled cheese sandwiches and pudding are gone, salads and hummus have filled the sides bar. French fries are being served in fewer meals, and tater tots are gone altogether.

“They need to bring the fries and tater tots back,” senior Jacob Obst said. “They just keep taking away things every year.”

FHN students are not alone in their shock and confusion. The changes in lunches this year have been experienced in schools across the country. Signed into law on Dec. 13, 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) set a national standard for the nutritional requirements of high school cafeteria food. In accordance with the law, all school meals must reflect the latest USDA “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” in their nutritional value and variety. Sodexo Food Service Manager Karin Mann, who is in charge of the food in all FHSD high schools and middle schools, believes that the HHFKA is an important step in improving the health of American teens.

“It’s huge,” Mann said. “It’s not something that the District put in place or Sodexo put in place. It’s the law.” The HHFKA was put in place to help solve some of the health issues associated with teens eating unhealthy foods. Although interpreted by each state individually (this and the training of employees were the reason for the law to become fully active), the basic idea of the law was to be the same. Every high school must offer nutritional food options for students to choose from, and every lunch must have at least three of the five following food groups: Dairy, Proteins, Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains. “They say that about one in three kids nowadays are dealing with obesity, which can lead to other health issues later in life,” Mann said. “It recognized that this country needs to eat healthier.”

The Solution

Since the law’s passing, changes have been gradually made to the lunch items available in all FHSD schools to include more healthy items, such as whole grains and vegetables. This was done in an effort for students to begin “waning off” the more unhealthy foods, so that they might accept the new policy and new foods more readily when they arrived for the 2012-2013 school year. “This District has been very proactive in having the nutritious options,” Mann said. “Once the bill was signed, we knew it was gonna be in place by July 2012, so we wanted to be prepared.”

Is it working?

The requirement that has brought on the biggest reaction amongst students at North, aside from the loss of tater tots, is that one of the three chosen food items must be a fruit or vegetable. Some believe it is inspired, while others find it pointless and wasteful.

“It’s a good idea, but it’s not gonna work,” senior Kyle Paaren said. “I see a lot more empty trays at lunch and people throwing away vegetables and apples.”

“If you don’t want to get it in the first place, then you’re not gonna eat it when they make you get it,” sophomore Bo Nixon said.

An option the District has provided to students who don’t want to eat the required food is the harvest table. It gives the option for uneaten fruit or milk to be stored and delivered to local food banks weekly, instead of it being thrown away. Another concern raised by students this year is if they are receiving enough to eat. Without french fries and tater tots this year, many more are leaving the lunch line with the minimum amount of food on their trays. This puts additional pressure on students in the Free/Reduced Lunch program, which limits the entree options to those on the basic menu.

“It’s just a chicken sandwich and fruit, and it’s not enough,” Obst, who qualifies for the program, said. “I can’t buy anything else because I don’t have the money.”

To help accommodate, Sodexo plans on potentially introducing new food items later this year. They will fall within the new national standards, but will also be taste-tested and critiqued by students prior to their release. This will take place sometime in December or January, and will be done by having students try the food during lunches and either fill out review forms or be interviewed directly by Sodexo employees. However, this does not guarantee that all of the students in the District will begin eating healthier.

“It will really only be a positive change if the students understand why it is being made,” Mann said. “Lunch is just one meal out of the day. [Students’ eating choices] will only change if they understand what needs to be changed and why it is so important.”