Waste Watch: Wasted School Lunches

There's a food fight going on in your child's school cafeteria right now. In one corner are school lunchroom workers, under a federal mandate to improve the eating habits of your children. In the other corner are the children themselves who are just not going along with the plan.

It's no secret children in the Tennessee Valley are throwing away most of their school lunches.. It's food that you have paid for as taxpayers. In Hamilton County alone, thousands of children are rebelling against new rules designed to keep them from becoming obese.

Are kids starving themselves? The answer.. could be yes..

The fight started with the beginning of this school year, "and it wasn't until the actuality of having to implement the new nutrition program, that we saw some drawbacks," says Hamilton County Schools Nutrition Director Carolyn Childs. That drawback, simply, is kids don't like the healthier food.

"It doesn't have any taste," says middle schooler Paige Iles of one particular day's fare. "I threw all of it away.. didn't even eat anything."

We're talking about the highly touted Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the one urged on by First Lady Michelle Obama, to fight obesity in children. It means public school students get fewer calories, more fruits and vegetables, and milk that is either 1 per cent or fat-free.

Elementary kids get no more than 650 calories per meal. Middle schoolers, no more than 700 calories and high schoolers, a maximum of 850 calories. The result is an increase in food thrown out every day, on its way to the landfill, most of it vegetables, then fruit, then entrees. "Here's a grilled chicken salad," says Donna Cox, cafeteria manager at Red Bank High School, as we look through the trash at what some high schoolers had just tossed away uneaten. "They have eaten the chicken out of the salad, but they left the vegetables."

Childs says, the government has good intentions with the new regulations. "It may look like good nutrition on paper and according to the plan, but if the kids are not eating it, it's not going to do anything for them."

Childs believes changes are necessary. She says the challenge is to make the fruits vegetables more appealing and spice up the entrees. It's an uphill battle, that, right now, the kids are winning. "Put more flavor in it," both Paige and classmate Katie Perry echoed. "Way more flavor."

Until the kids come around, this school lunch experiment is costing you money. The cost of school lunches in Hamilton County went up 25 cents this year.. It's now $2.75, much of that increase pays for more nutritional foods.

It's ironic that the kids are paying more.. But eating less.

There is no dollar estimate yet of how much food is being wasted, because the program is new, but just by looking at what's being thrown away, it would be in the millions of dollars nationwide.

Is the situation going to get worse?

"I hate to be a naysayer," says Childs, "but I have concerns, yes."

Now we don't want to throw school cafeterias under the bus. If kids have to get used to this new program, it needs to start at home. Parents need to serve, and in some cases, introduce these same types of foods and even the same portions at home.

This year, the emphasis was on lunches.. Next year, the focus will be on breakfast, with an emphasis on less meat and even LESS salt and sugar.

If you don't get your kids used to the new standards, we could see healthier garbage cans... instead of children.

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