Want not? Government's new school lunch requirements add options, fruits, veggies and - maybe - waste
Horizon Elementary fifth-grader Joshua Phan was pleased to find one of his favorite options on Tuesday’s lunch menu. Video by IdahoOnYourSide.comvideo
Horizon Elementary fifth-grader Joshua Phan was pleased to find one of his favorite options on Tuesday’s lunch menu.
“Either lasagna, pizza or popcorn chicken,” he said.
But along with that grain and protein, the federal government says he now must also select at least one fruit or vegetable. It’s the most significant change to the National School Lunch Program in 15 years – approved by congress in 2010 when statistics showed one in three American schoolchildren registered as overweight or obese.
Before, menu planners like Peggy Bodnar, the dietitian for the Boise School District, analyzed all the nutrients in a given dish. Now, cafeterias divide offerings into five groups from which kids must select a minimum of three choices and at least one fruit or veggie every meal.
“So," Bodnar said, "it actually makes it easier for the average consumer and the public to understand."
Galileo parent K.C. Warner works in the food industry. She likely understood the changes to her children's lunch menus better than most.
And she liked what she saw.
“It’s a lot more of – what I consider to be – healthier choices,” Warner said.
But just because the feds can lead a kid to veggies doesn’t mean they can make him eat.
“Do you like fruits and veggies?” we asked Joshua.
“Not really,” he said.
“We had a lot of students just taking everything they were being offered,” Bodnar said, “and then not consuming what they were taking.”
The issue of added waste from the new lunch program has received a lot of national attention. But in Boise, the district said it’s tracking all its trash and has yet to detect an increase.
“If they’re hungry,” Warner said, “they’re going to eat what’s given to them.”
Both Warner and the district believe eating healthful foods at home inspires similar behavior at school and thus – hopefully – less waste.
“Often times," Bodnar said, "it takes 10-12 times before a child tries a food item before they start liking it."
By that logic, young Joshua could use a couple more cracks at Horizon’s oranges.
“You gonna eat it?” we asked him.
“No,” he said. “Just throw it away.”
Indeed, post-lunch oranges appeared at the Horizon dumping station more frequently than Joshua’s darling slices of pizza.
Bodnar said she’d seen proportionately less fruit and veggie waste at district high schools, but fewer kids that age (around 25 percent compared to the nearly 70 percent in elementary school) even eat school lunches. Bodnar said she did expect waste to decline once kids grew accustomed to the extra options and adjusted their eating habits appropriately.
The good news? Joshua’s review of the food he doesn’t waste.
“It’s actually pretty good,” he said.
The Boise School District’s tracked both its waste and its portions for a long time. It plans to conduct a plate-waste study reflecting the new changes sometime in the next couple of weeks.