Trashing Veggies

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Last year, in a piece about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, we asked whether Congress was correct to block funding for rules, proposed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), that would have limited how many servings of starchy vegetables school-lunch programs can serve each week. Despite this action, however, many school districts have revamped their lunch programs to include more servings of fruits and nonstarchy vegetables this school year, with results that appear to be not entirely positive.

According to a New York Times article on students’ reactions to their school-lunch makeovers, some students complain that new calorie limits — meals can contain no more than 850 calories — are leaving them hungry. Some believe that new limits on fat and sodium have left their food tasteless, and some have even organized protests and boycotts of their school-lunch programs. At one high school in New Jersey, where a boycott was organized, portions of foods such as pizza and chicken nuggets had shrunk, while meal prices had risen slightly (from $2.50 to $2.60, for students not eligible for free or reduced-cost meals). Moreover, students were required to take packaged baby carrots and apples before leaving the lunch line, which many simply threw away.

As the article notes, the Los Angeles Unified School District has been particularly aggressive in its meal changes in recent years, beginning to serve relatively exotic dishes such as quinoa salads and vegetable curries. When those foods were rejected by students, they switched to whole-wheat-crust pizzas and fajitas, with vegetables served on the side. But according to the cafeteria manager at one middle school, many students have shunned the meals in favor of junk food that is available in vending machines and at the school store.

What do you make of students’ reactions to the newly revamped menus — is some amount of backlash an inevitable result of healthier meals? Is it likely that most students will learn to accept healthier school lunches, or is this unlikely, given the wide availability of unhealthy foods outside of school? Should Congress do away with calorie requirements in school lunches? Should it ban the sale of junk food in schools — which has been associated with a higher rate of obesity — altogether, even in vending machines or outside of mealtimes? Is it possible to serve healthy, delicious school lunches on a budget in the United States? Leave a comment below!

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