Jan 29, 2015
School Menu Changes Too Harsh?

By Ryan Johnson

Schools across the country are back in full swing and not all of the kids are happy about it. This fall kicks off the new U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Federal School Lunch policies. The cookies and sweets that once occupied many school cafeteria menus have been replaced by more fruits and vegetables. That’s not a bad thing right. However upon further review, I’ve noticed that we may be getting a little too extreme with the changes. For example, many schools are now no longer even serving ketchup. I’m left wondering if this is the best solution to curb childhood obesity. What about mandating more exercise?

After hearing my middle school children rant about wheat crust pizza and nothing to slather their chicken nuggets in, I decided to investigate a bit for myself. A quick Internet search led me to the USDA Web site School Meals Regulation, where a report with the heading Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program outlined the following summative info regarding the new practices. For the Cliff Notes version of the report, schools are required to increase fruits and vegetables, offer a meat alternative, provide fat free and low fat milk, incorporate whole grains, reduce sodium, and eliminate meals with trans fats.

This new school meals initiative comes on the heels of the 2010 Alliance School Beverage Guidelines Final Progress Report, which in general called for the removal of full calorie beverages, and reduced sized servings of caloric beverages in schools across the country. All in all, the reduction of liquid calories was applauded in most circles as an effort to reduce the obesity trends in the youth across the country. So now the sugary sodas in our school vending machines have been replaced by diet versions. Which, interestingly enough, sometimes contain a higher amount of sodium.

In the district that my children attend, all condiments have been removed from the schools. No ketchup, no BBQ sauce, and hold the mayo. Cookies have also been removed from the menu as well as 2% milk. Classroom teachers can no longer reward kids with treats, and birthdays are no longer celebrated with cupcakes or snacks either. Though much of that decision has to do with the prevalence of nut allergies, to me, I see a trend developing in our schools.

And so do the kids. Across the country there is an uprising from kids to “brown bag it,” Twitter accounts and Facebook pages are popping up everywhere. Their goal is to boycott school lunches until they can have their cake and eat it too. Well not quite, but you get the point.

I find myself pondering a lot of aspects of this recent development. We can mandate what a kid eats in the lunch room, but we can’t control what the buy from the vending machine a mere 20 feet from the lunchroom, let alone what they go home and graze on after school. The government is not educating the kids, they are simply removing the entire thought process of healthy choices.

And as a physical education teacher, I wonder why there isn’t a federal policy on everyday physical education? To be honest, I am finding myself on the side of the kids. I say give the kids their ketchup with a side of physical education. #brownbagit

Ryan Johnson is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Wayzata (Minn.) High School. He is also a frequent blogger for T&C. He can be reached at: [email protected].


I too am an educator at a secondary school in New Jersey. I agree, that there needs to be more done in the way of educating the students (and their parents) about nutrition and exercise. I also believe however, that the cafeteria is a role model for nutrition, and is therefore (somewhat) accountable for setting good examples. We can’t control what students put in their brown bags, or how many times a week they eat fast food. We can however, educate by example. Our cafeteria serves French fries and pizza everyday. This sends a message that it’s ok to eat theses foods on a daily basis, which, in my opinion is wrong. It is time to change today’s “traditional cafeteria fare” from a “fast food focus” to more sound offerings like fruits , vegetables, whole grains, lean unprocessed meats, and healthy fats. Although this is only part of the total nutrition equation, it is, I believe, a necessary component. Let’s face it, no one likes change, or to be told (in this case) what to eat. Audrey Tannenbaum ME.d, A.T.,C., CSCS Florence Township Memorial High School Florence, New Jersey

In general, I think that the school lunch changes are positive. Student athletes need to be sure that they have adequate calories for fuel – I believe that they have the option to purchase additional portions.

Kathleen Searles, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

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