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Hunger-Free Kids Act Leaves Pasco Students Hungry

The new federal legislation cuts portion sizes and requires more fruits and vegetables, something a district official says is generating a lot of complaints.

New federal guidelines are shaking up school lunches for the first time in 30 years. It’s an effort to make it easy for students to maintain a healthy diet.

But the students aren’t buying it.

The new guidelines for school lunches went into effect in August, and school officials say complaints are up, sales are down—and the changes will cost the district more than a million dollars this year alone.

The healthier meals are a component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let's Move! Campaign. The legislation authorizes funding and sets policy for the USDA’s core child nutrition programs, including school lunches and breakfasts.

The legislation requires limits on proteins and grains offered, based on grade level, Pasco Schools' Food and Nutrition Services supervisor Julie Hedine told the school board Tuesday.

Students must select a fruit and a vegetable, which make up about half the meal offered, Hedine said.

There are caloric limits based on the ages of the students that must be met, as well. Getting to those calories with a plate filled mostly by fruits and vegetables creates a challenge, she said.

“We are short on calories sometimes” because of the portion limitations on proteins and grains, Hedine said. That means adding in items such as pudding and chips to get the calories up, which is not something the federal government may have intended.

Implementing the changes is costing about $1.3 million more than what the government is providing in grants for the program, Hedine said.

Florida, was awarded $311,500 to help state’s schools meet the new requirements, according to the USDA’s website.

And while the district’s costs are going up, the number of students buying lunch is declining, because they don’t see the value in it, Hedine said.

Though the quality and ingredients are staying the same in some student and staff favorites—such as Zephyrhills High School’s calzones—the portion size has been cut in half, she said.

And students' choices are limited by the requirements.

“Even if students don’t like beans, they’re going to see them on their plate,” Hedine said.

The district is getting complaints from parents and administrators, but this isn’t just a Pasco problem, Hedine said.

Students in other states have garnered national media attention by posting “We Are Starving” videos on Youtube and organizing boycotts.

Hedine said the district was already well on its way to healthier standards for school meals, but the hasty directives of the new federal guidelines has them scrambling at the moment.

Last time a major change was implemented, pilot programs were put in place at select schools, Hedine said. This time, the decision was approved in March and required compliance just a few months later.

Some schools are getting creative, setting up "share stations," where students can put unwanted items from their lunches in a cold area for students who are still hungry to pick up, Hedine said. Items left at the end of the week are donated to local food pantries.

Hedine noted that the decrease can especially a problem for those students who rely on school meals for the majority of their nutritional needs.

The standard answer to that is that if the student eats all the fruit and veggies they are offered, then they will have plenty of food, Hedine said.

What are your kids saying about school lunches? Let us know in the comments section.

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Chuck R October 03, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Except for the budget shortfall, this is all fine to me. Give the kids healthy food. If they don't eat it, it's on them. That's how it works in my house, and yes, sometimes my kids don't eat it, and go hungry. They are all quite healthy, so I guess it's working! :) I also would agree that it's not the schools' responsibility to deliver food to the kids at all, especially if there isn't money for it. I suppose they should raise the price of school lunches or cancel school lunches. In the end parents are responsible for EVERYTHING associated with their children, including getting them to school in the event that there isn't money for buses, and taking care of them on the fifth day in the event of a four-day school week. We all need to accept responsibility for what is ours.
Tracy Gifford October 03, 2012 at 03:40 PM
The idea of parents being the sole responsible party for a child's meals sounds ideal. Unfortunately, for some families, that is not always the case. With as many people that are unable to put food on the table during these hard economic times, when lines for foodbanks wrap around the building, sometimes the only food children receive in a day come from school lunch programs! If we raised the price, or took it out altogether, these children would go hungry!
Patch Critic October 03, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Oh look! Its another way for the government to make people eat healthy. Unbelievable. Here's a novel idea. Why don't we have more classes on eating healthy. Maybe put it in the school curriculum. Once a week perhaps. Also, I completely disagree with the portions and a lot of parents are going to give me heat for this but it should be the complete opposite. This is America after all. Not some war torn country with a food shortage. We don't have a food shortage. Families have money shortages for food. My proposal would be that children pay one flat fee for school lunch and its an all you can eat buffet. Therefore children can eat as little or as much as they choose to. They will have portion controls in regards to how much goes on their plate everytime they get in line. Also, there should be disciplinary actions for children that waste food. Therefore children will only take what they can eat and no one else complains about how the kids are still hungry after lunch. Also, we continue to make sure the children are served food that is good for them. This is a win win.
Lori McCandrew October 03, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Pasco county has an alarming amount of children who only eat breakfast and lunches that the school provides as their parents can't afford food, let along nutriotional food. Go to any local grocery store and check out the price of food that is good for you and the food that will fill the bellies of poor and or struggling families. In an ideal world every child would eat three square healthy meals a day but that is not happening. I will continue to champion for the underdog (minor children) and make sure they have the food and nutrition that their young developing bodies need. For anyone wanting to donate to families who are struggling please feel free to drop off any items to Connerton Elementary and we will be sure to get it into the hands of families that will truly benefit and be grateful.
Cathy Hogue October 03, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Just yesterday, I looked at my 14 year old, 6'1" son's Meal History on MyLunchMoney dot com. I was upset with him as he spent $10 in ONE day for lunch. He had a drink and 3 Calzones! I was upset as I told him he didn't need 3 calzones. He said he was ALWAYS hungry after lunch and that the calzones were tiny. Needless to say, now I understand. My poor 6'1" and growing, 14 year old, NOT overweight young man is being lumped into the same calorie requirements as a 5'5" little girl. This seems just a little ridiculous to me.....and non-conducive to learning.
Sherri Lonon October 03, 2012 at 11:28 PM
I've been hearing some reports of kids having to purchase certain items to make their meal balanced, even if they're not going to eat those items. Anyone else out there have their kids come home saying this?
Jay Dusek October 09, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Our high school Jr asked if we could start packing his lunch. He had purchased lunch at school for two years, but told us, recently, what was going and what he got for the money wasn't worth it any longer. Look! It's cool to take a sack lunch to school again. And, we are saving money! The law of unintended consequences....In reality, another big brother idea gone astray. Honestly, if you think rationing on school lunches is bad, wait till gov't controls your healthcare.

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