Area schools react after students complain about new rules combating childhood obesityStanding in the lunch line at Hillsboro High School, Brandon Berg, 18, said Wednesday that the free second helpings the school started providing this week for the first time has been nice.
By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald
HILLSBORO, N.D. — Standing in the lunch line at Hillsboro High School, Brandon Berg, 18, said Wednesday that the free second helpings the school started providing this week for the first time has been nice.
“I never really wanted to eat here,” he said. “I wanted to go to Burger King or Stop and Go because we didn’t get enough food.”
Federal nutrition rules unrolled this year requires schools to provide less sodium and sugar and more whole grains in meals to help combat childhood obesity. It also limits the total calories in each meal — lunches for Grades 9 through 12, for instance, must be between 750 and 850 calories — which prompted an outcry from local students who said the servings were too small.
The Hillsboro School Board decided March 18 to pay for second servings of the lower-calorie meals, not including milk.
Superintendent Paula Pederson said the added cost for taxpayers is “piddly.”
Hillsboro is one of an estimated 15 to 20 districts statewide that pays for seconds using their general fund, according to Linda Schloer, director of child nutrition programs at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.
Districts are still compliant with federal nutrition rules so long as they don’t seek federal reimbursement for seconds, she said, meaning they can pay for those costs themselves or ask students to pay.
DPI doesn’t keep track of the schools that have been trying the new method.
For Hillsboro, the second helpings will cost $1,200 by the end of the year out of a $4.2 million budget, Pederson said. Another impetus behind the board’s decision is the school used to give away unlimited amounts of food so it would not go to waste.
“We feel as long as we’re providing a good breakfast and a good lunch, it’s a small amount of money,” she said.
The school district used to charge 50 cents for a second helping so school lunches are not a big moneymaker, she said. Cooks’ salaries are the biggest reason behind the deficit in the lunch program budget, so spending a bit more on seconds won’t make that much of a difference, she said.
Grafton Public Schools started paying for seconds with its general fund this fall and says it expects a $4,350 loss by the end of the year. The district charges 50 cents per extra entrée.
“Our student body enjoys extra fruits and vegetables, but we’re not getting enough calories in a day,” said Carole DeMars, food service director. “We knew that they needed more food.”
Grand Forks Public Schools charge the same amount as Hillsboro for a standard meal, though students pay 25 cents to $1.24 for extra sides, such as vegetables, and entrées, said Julie Tunseth, the district’s director of child nutrition.
“I think that if people are hungry, if they want to eat a second entrée and they know their bodies and they want to pay for it, that’s a good thing,” she said. “But I don’t really feel it’s up to the taxpayers to pay for it.”
Several food officials in the Grand Forks district said they don’t encourage students to load up on extra entrées, and agreed some students shouldn’t be doing it at all. However, they said, students who return to the lunch line the most are athletes who typically burn off the extra calories.
Grand Forks schools try to divert students’ focus to healthier extras, such as fruits, by making those extras less expensive, said Tunseth.
“What we worry about is that if you keep that entrée cheap enough, then kids will come through and eat three hot dogs and not eat any of their fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Most students in the Hillsboro lunchroom on Wednesday were eating the bananas and salad offered. Students have access to an unlimited salad bar, and elementary students in particular take full advantage of that, said Pederson.
Schloer said DPI encourages districts to sell healthier food items, although it’s up to each to develop their own health policies regarding meals.
The rules set standards based on a normal student though there will always be students outside that average, she said.
“Maybe they’re just a lot taller and bigger than average,” she said. “It’s not going to be 100 percent perfect for every single student, and so those students might need seconds.”
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