As the bell rang for lunch on the first day of the 2011-2012 school year, students filing into the cafeteria were greeted by some surprising new changes concerning their school lunches. Serving sizes in foods such as Otis Spunkmeyer cookies and Pop-Tarts were reduced, and some foods, such as tater tots, were eliminated altogether. These changes stem from new guidelines enacted by the Kansas School Nutrition Programs (SNP) designed to regulate the calories, fat, sodium, and vitamins in foods that schools are selling.
“We feel that school should be a place where children can learn good eating habits that they will carry with them throughout their lives,” Director of SNP, Cheryl Johnson, said. “Because of this, we made it a priority to have realistic portions and healthier alternatives to the traditional school lunches.”
Another major change that was instituted this year in the cafeteria deals with the variety of some of the entrees. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing a major overhaul of school lunch requirements and programs, which would take effect in the 2012-2013 school year. In order to make the next year’s transition into this new regime less drastic, SMSD decided to start making some needed changes this year.
The main goal of these changes is to provide more types of vegetables and fruits, as well as focus on including every food group in the entrees for a more balanced meal.
It is clear from the actions being taken that SMSD has been making an effort to make their cafeterias more health-conscious. However, if the district keeps offering students the kinds of unhealthy foods that are currently available, no change can be made.
Instead of focusing on issues like decreasing portion sizes, SMSD should be looking into permanent solutions that truly lead students to pursue healthier lifestyles, both in the cafeteria and out in the real world.
The initiatives taken by the district this year are definitely a start to achieving this goal.
For example, students now have the choice of regular french fries or “confetti fries,” a mix of both french fries and sweet potato fries. This alternative provides a source of legumes, a type of fruit that many adolescent diets are lacking, according to a study conducted by the University of Georgia in 2007.
The biggest change to the menu so far has been the switch to whole grains, which are now present in all pastas, rice, and bread that is sold by the cafeteria.
“We thought that switching to whole grains was an easy change that could greatly improve the nutritional value of many of the foods that we make,” SMSD food manager Nancy Coughenour said.
Although the cafeteria is applying all these new options, many students have stuck to their old ways when it comes to choosing healthy foods and smaller portions.
This can be seen each day in the lunch line, where many students skirt around the new smaller portions by simply buying two bags of Otis Spunkmeyer cookies instead of the recommended one.
“I don’t think that [the new changes] are that much healthier,” Junior Michael Kennedy said. “I usually end up having to buy more than one item anyway because of the smaller servings, and lunch costs way more for me now.”
To achieve a truly healthy cafeteria, it is necessary to cut out the foods that have little to no nutritional value. This way, if students are hungry, they will be forced to eat a nutritional meal. Over time, this could have a major effect on the health of students who buy school lunch. Not only would they be healthier in general, but they would have more energy to face the second half of the school day.
The efforts being made at East to change students’ eating habits are by no means unnoticeable, but as long as there is an unhealthy option for every healthy one offered, there is no way that the school is going to make major headway in the fight towards healthier student population.