By Jenny Neyman
First-graders at Redoubt Elementary School worked their way through the lunch line on the second day of school Aug. 25, oblivious to the considerable amount of nutritional research, economic budgeting, staff training and overall planning, consideration and preparation that went into the experience.
The meal that awaited them, teriyaki meatballs with whole-grain rice and a choice of up to three sides — corn, chilled pineapple, a fruit juice bar, 100 percent fruit juice and milk — had been carefully planned to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for nutrition. The meals provide a proper amount of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, fiber, whole grains and protein while limiting fat, sodium, sugar, calories and the percentage of calories from fat.
The methods and means by which lunch would be served had been designed to maximize the appetizing appeal of the food while limiting packaging waste and expense. The staff serving the meal had been trained in food safety protocols, nutritional standards and efficiency.
Even the rate and time at which the kids got their lunch had been orchestrated. Students cycle through every five minutes, the theory being that eliminating long lines eliminates opportunities for goofing off.
All these factors are critically important to USDA student nutrition administrators and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Student Nutrition Services personnel, teachers, administrators and school staff, parents and school board members. These factors can have serious impacts on budgets, the functionality of the nationwide and worldwide web of food vendors and transporters, and, most importantly, on students’ health and ability to focus and learn.
To the kids, though, all that matters is the food deposited on their trays and what they thought of it. On this particular day, many students didn’t think much of lunch.
“Meatballs?” said first-grader Faith-Lynn Rose Gattenby as she left the food line with her tray.
“I don’t like them. Do I have to eat the meatballs?” she asked. Her question was answered by an older student passing by, who imparted a kernel of wisdom that strikes frustration in the hearts of all the professionals who put so much work into the meal, yet is universally known by picky eaters through the district:
“No. You have to take it, but you don’t have to eat it,” the older student said.
With that, Faith-Lynn sat at her table, drank her milk, poked at her pineapple chunks and happily devoured her frozen fruit juice bar, leaving the meatballs and rice barely touched and bound for the trash.
So goes the school food battle, waged between 70 KPBSD Student Nutrition Services personnel who will serve about 900,000 student meals in the 2010-11 school year, and students trained to want grease, fat, sugar and carbohydrates, in a state where 27 percent of high school students are overweight and 11 percent obese, and 42 percent of adults don’t meet physical activity guidelines and 76 percent don’t consume the recommended five servings of fruits and veggies each day. Continue reading