published Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

School lunch revamp would cause challenges

by Kelli Gauthier
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press Carol Jones, head cook, dishes out taco meat for UTC Children's Center pre-k student Rohan Woodruff's lunch while at Battle Academy in downtown Chattanooga late Monday morning.

Now that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has revealed specifics about its proposed changes to school lunches, officials are starting to panic over how they'll afford the hefty prices of healthy food.

"We don't have enough money now to meet the standards they want, so how are we going to do this financially?" asked Carolyn Childs, director of Hamilton County Schools' school nutrition department. "They say they're going to increase [our subsidy] 6 cents ... 6 cents is nothing."

The USDA is asking the public to submit comments on the proposed new requirements until April 13.

One of the biggest changes would increase significantly the amount of fruits and vegetables schools must serve. Now they must give between 1/2 cup and 1 cup of fruits and vegetables every day. The new rules would require 3/4 cup to 1 cup of vegetables plus 1/2 cup to 1 cup of fruit per day.

The rules limit which vegetables are served. There are weekly requirements for dark green and orange vegetables, while starchy vegetables such as potatoes, lima beans, corn and green peas are restricted to 1 cup each week.

"Kids love corn and potatoes," Childs said. "They'll do without before they eat something they don't like."

Battle Academy fourth-grader Jalen Womble, 9, thinks most of his classmates only pretend to not like fruits and vegetables because they think it's the cool thing to do.

"I love strawberries. I think they should be added," he said.

Classmate Sheldon Binford, 10, said she would like to see more vegetables anyway, so the changes don't sound too bad.

"I'm not much of a wheat eater, but they could add a little," she said.

Battle's physical education teacher, Chris Darras, said students' acceptance of the new menu will depend largely on what they're used to seeing at home.

"If they see something and they don't recognize it, they don't want to grab something that they might not like," he said.

Sara White, director of the state's school nutrition department, said she's assuring her local directors that it's likely the proposed changes will be amended.

"I think every single person needs to make a comment if they think a comment is necessary," White said.

"Tell me what fruit or vegetable you can buy for 6 cents; I just don't think it's possible," she said. "I think it may be fairly extreme, but I guess we'll see. I'm hoping they'll listen to us."

According to the USDA, nearly 32 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, a figure that has tripled in the last few decades. Updating school menus is just one way to help fight childhood obesity, the USDA says.

"With many children consuming as many as half their daily calories at school, strengthening nutritional standards is an important step in the Obama administration's effort to combat childhood obesity and improve the health and well-being of all our kids," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in


To comment on the USDA's proposed new rules for school lunches, visit by April 13.



Grades K-5: 350-500

Grades 6-8: 400-550

Grades 9-12: 450-600


Grades K-5: 550-650

Grades 6-8: 600-700

Grades 9-12: 750-850

Source: USDA

a prepared statement.

Local nutritionist Dee Harwell said the changes are a step in the right direction, but that true change in kids' palates will require the firm support of parents and teachers, as well.

"If they say, 'Well, I don't like green beans,' well, they don't like to do their math, either, but we don't tell them they don't have to do that," she said.

In addition to the extra fruits and veggies, the new regulations would require half the daily serving of 1.8 to 2.6 ounces of grains to be whole grain.

"A whole-grain bun is 22 cents per serving; a plain biscuit is 12 cents. You're talking double," Childs said.

All milk products must be 1 percent milkfat, a change Hamilton County began phasing in this school year. Over the next 10 years, sodium levels must be reduced between 25 and 53 percent, depending on grade level.

Despite the extra costs, Childs said she has some ideas on ways to comply with the changes before charging students more to eat cafeteria food.

Cafeterias in Hamilton County schools serve two entrees, chef salads, processed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and yogurt. If the new changes are passed, Childs said the district will likely have to cut back on the variety.

She's also considering training cafeteria servers on portion control because she believes portion sizes vary widely from school to school.

"Raising prices is the last option," she said.

But all the changes in the world won't do much good if kids won't eat the healthier food, Childs said. Parents need to start offering their children healthier food, too, so their palates adjust, she said.

"School nutrition is going to have a challenge to change the taste buds of these kids if the rest of their diet doesn't change. If we're the only ones changing, yes, we'll win a few kids over, but we really need the support of parents."

Follow Kelli Gauthier on Twitter by following this link.

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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dao1980 said...

I like the look on the kids face in the picture for this story.

January 25, 2011 at 8:16 a.m.
chattyjill said...

I hear BCBST in downtown Chattanooga has an exceptional health-focused cafeteria. Ms. Childs should consult with them. Also, many of the children in the school system are probably covered by BCBST insurance, or their parent works there, or they will work there when they grow up, so maybe there can be some sort of partnership or sponsorship. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

January 25, 2011 at 10:34 a.m.
jpo3136 said...

We can afford to give these kids a healthy meal. Complaining about the price of whole wheat buns is petty compared to hunger, obesity and just plain getting lunch wrong.

Yes, we're stuck in a market model that makes "SuperSize burgers and fries" processed food cheap and a healthy plate of steak and potato expensive. We don't care. Feed the kids healthy food.

They don't need to be put on a fried breading, high fat gut buster burger diet. They don't need acidic, corrosive pH 2 drinks to scorch their teeth. They don't need high-sugar, sweetened drinks with additional sugar spiced down with salt, to kill off microbes as a preservative, to flood their guts and bloodstreams. They need healthy food.

If it's six cents more, then tax to be prepared to pay ten. Why do we incessantly bicker about the six cents more it takes to do something right? Have we ever seen a cheap answer actually do well when it's time to buy an energy supply or invest in brains?

Buy the recommend food. Feed the kids. Pay up and drive on.

January 25, 2011 at 5:36 p.m.
DanielleD827 said...

It is our responsibility as adults to get the processed food off the school lunch plates. We are responsible for the rate of obesity in this country simply because we have not taken, until now, a step in the right direction to improve the health of our youth. Educating children on proper nutrition is key for success in life. The children will be able to become more alert in the classroom, they will be happier, healthier, and become educated about their health through this change. Money should not be an issue here. This is a small step in the right direction. Our children should have access to healthy organic food in school. We will take it one step at a time.

January 26, 2011 at 12:36 a.m.
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