According to a flyer sent out by Columbia Public Schools in August, to “support healthy childhood weight in students,” the U.S. Departement of Agriculture imposed changes on the National School Lunch Program, mandating variety in each meal, decreasing unhealthy options and frustrating students.
The stipulations require a half cup of fruit or vegetable per meal, a calorie minimum and maximum, the removal of added trans fats and a specified amount of whole grains offered.
CPS Director of Nutrition Services Laina Fullum admits the conditions have been challenging to meet; the new system is “extremely prescriptive,” Fullum said, and thus difficult to carry out at CPS’ 31 sites. RBHS cafeteria manager Shannon Brown feels the biggest battle comes with the fruit and vegetable rule.
“Ordering-wise we’ve had to order a lot more fruit because [students are] required to take either a fruit or a vegetable,” Brown said, with the biggest effects on “the ordering and seeing what the kids will actually take.”
The cost to CPS has also dramatically increased with the new rules. Overestimating produce orders can result in financial loss.
It’s “extremely inflationary,” Fullum said. “Where we allowed students to refuse certain items, we now make them take an item that’s very costly … if we misjudge and order the wrong thing … we could lose money. ”
Though junior Austin Dockins understands the USDA’s newest policies may encourage healthier eating, he thinks they seem a bit controlling. The amount of food wasted hurts CPS financially as students immediately trash their required fruit.
“From what I have seen, most people are given an apple from the register ladies to make the food a meal and … all I’ve ever seen was people throwing it away,” Dockins said. “If I was going to eat an apple, I would grab it myself.”
Despite financial and organizational frustration with the new policies, Fullum said the basic idea is beneficial. She sees the new rules as a step in the right direction for teaching students the importance of a healthy diet.
“I think in the long run, we always knew we were part of the curriculum and the … learning process with students,” Fullum said. “These are very sound regulations … I think this is going to be key to helping students understand what’s important to eat and what not to eat.”
By Alyssa Sykuta