High school students boycott school cafeteria over new FEDERAL lunch restrictions - legislation promoted by Michelle Obama

September 19, 2012

By 7 a.m. Monday, senior Nick Blohm already had burned about 250 calories in the Mukwonago High School weight room.

He grabbed a bagel and a Gatorade afterward; if he eats before lifting, he gets sick.

That was followed by eight periods in the classroom, and then three hours of football practice. By the time he headed home, he had burned upward of 3,000 calories - his coach thinks the number is even higher.

But the calorie cap for his school lunch? 850 calories.

"A lot of us are starting to get hungry even before the practice begins," Blohm said. "Our metabolisms are all sped up."

Following new federal guidelines, school districts nationwide have retooled their menus to meet new requirements to serve more whole grains, only low-fat or nonfat milk, daily helpings of both fruits and vegetables, and fewer sugary and salty items. And for the first time, federal funds for school lunches mandate age-aligned calorie maximums. The adjustments are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 touted by Michelle Obama and use the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The changes are hard to swallow for students like Blohm. On Monday, 70% of the 830 Mukwonago High students who normally buy lunch boycotted cafeteria food to protest what they see as an unfair "one size fits all thing." Middle schoolers in the district also boycotted their school lunches, with counts down nearly half Monday. They're not alone in their frustration; schools across the country are reporting students who are unhappy with the lunch offerings.

The sub sandwich line at Mukwonago High used to let students pile veggies on a six-inch French bread bun. Options now include a fist-sized whole wheat roll or multigrain wrap, and the once popular line is now mostly empty.

The healthier food is less the issue than the portions.

"A freshman girl who weighs 100 pounds can eat this lunch and feel completely full, maybe even a little bloated," said Joey Bougneit, a Mukwonago senior.

But Blohm is a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound linebacker. He's also class president, and takes several Advanced Placement classes. If schools want students to perform well, he said, they can't be sitting in their chairs hungry.

Last year's fare featured favorites like chicken nuggets and mini corn dogs in helpings that were "relatively decent," Bougneit said. But health-conscious regulations have changed that. Last week's super nacho plate, for example, offered just eight tortilla chips.

Adding to the dissatisfaction is a 10-cent price hike on lunches because the USDA, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, forced many districts to raise full-price lunches closer to the $2.86 it reimburses for students who qualify for free lunches. That means the leaner, greener lunches at Mukwonago High this year now cost $2.50 instead of $2.40.

"Now it's worse tasting, smaller sized and higher priced," Bougneit said.

Officials share concerns

Pam Harris, the district food service supervisor and a registered dietitian, said children's weight and poor nutrition in America are serious problems, but the changes are too abrupt.

"I could not be more passionate about this," Harris said. "I want to solve this problem. But limiting calories in school lunch is not going to help the overweight kid. What happens at home is a major piece of that puzzle."

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