There was an increase of packed lunches in the cafeterias of Tyler Consolidated Middle School and Tyler Consolidated High School Thursday and Friday as many students demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The legislation implemented at the start of the 2012-2013 school year places a maximum on certain foods served, where before there was only a minimum.
In protest, many students last week brought in cold lunches for two days rather than eating school lunch. This student-organized demonstration was planned around a validation review from the W.Va. Department of Education's Office of Child Nutrition. The state representatives were present in order to check production records with the consistency of meals, insure that the guidelines are being followed for the current week and observe the students who were eating the meal service lunches. Amanda Kimble, now in her fifth year as Tyler County's director of child nutrition and support services, reported that the review went great.
Under the legislation, Kimble turns in a claim to the state department at the end of each month. It then goes to the federal government in order to determine reimbursements based on student participation. The reimbursement rate is six cents per lunch for any certified school food authority.
The current hot lunch at Tyler Consolidated offers a variety of foods.
"If we don't comply," said Kimble, "We don't get the state and federal reimbursement."
Before the legislation, it had been 15 years since the federal government had addressed nutritional guidelines in schools. According to Kimble, the menu has not changed much, only some portion sizes.
For the middle school, they can only serve two ounces of grains and two ounces of meats each day for a total of eight to 10 ounces of grain and nine to 10 ounces of meat in a week. For high school, the range for grains and meat increase to 10-12 ounces a week. A minimum of an additional half-cup of fruits and vegetables has also been added.
Kimble said these portions are a matter of manipulating numbers. She feels that the students' issues with the program primarily concern breaded items, such as croutons and crackers, because they have not done anything differently with meats. She said she has not heard complaints about any other food types, a lot of which have been switched out for what she thinks are better, tastier foods.
She said there is a lot more to choose from at the salad bar than ever before. The intent, she assured, is not to decrease how much students eat ,but to instead offer a larger variety of healthier foods.
Regarding the protest, Kimble does not feel that it was meant against the school or her work with the program, but rather directed at aspects of the federal mandate. She also expressed appreciation for how respectfully the students conducted themselves.
"We are trying to take a stand and make a difference," said one middle school student, who reported that all but about 30 students brought a cold lunch on the first day of state observation and planned on doing so again on the second day.
The day before the protest, middle school participation in meal service was about 90 percent, while high school participation was about 75 percent. Kimble called those averages consistent.
"That tells you the kids like the lunches," she said. "They eat the lunches and it's a good lunch program. The cooks do an excellent job. They're very accommodating in helping the kids."
The first day of the student demonstration saw a school-wide participation of 42 percent.
Because this is the first school year in which the legislation is implemented, and the regulations are still new to them, Kimble assured that changes will be made as they find new and better ways of doing things. They are trying to get items kids want, such as croutons and crackers, put on the menu as allowed.
"I am always open to suggestions," she said, noting that her door is always open.
She mentioned how miscommunications on websites such as Facebook and Twitter may be causing some of the anxieties students are feeling. She clarified: there has been no talk of eliminating Ranch dressing or any salad dressing at any time during this school year; homemade pizza and pepperoni rolls will remain on the menu for many years to come; crackers, croutons and cottage cheese have been limited, but they will not be eliminated; and they offer enough different items to fill up two trays, so there is indeed plenty to eat.
If parents have concerns, they can reach Kimble at 304-758-2145. She invites anyone to call.
The 2013-2014 school year will see changes to the breakfast program. More information about the HHFKA can be found online at USDA.gov.