This young student likes what he sees in the lunch line this week in the Georgetown County School District.
It has been a hot topic both locally and nationally for the past couple of weeks.
Changes to the lunches served in public schools across the country have been met with some praise and vocal criticism.
Starting last week, posts began to appear on the Georgetown Times’ Facebook page from parents and students in Georgetown County who are not happy with the changes.
The next day national media began reporting on the complaints from parents and students in school districts across America.
“I would love to know who decided that our schools needed such a drastic lunch menu change this year?” parent Jamie Adams wrote on the Times’ Facebook page. “Now all desert has been eliminated and lunch not only has changed but many parents are complaining that their kids now want their lunch packed. This Is ridiculous.”
Adams’ posting sparked responses from dozens of other readers. Most were in agreement.
“My kids used to love eating school lunch, now with them coming home everyday starving because they didn’t eat the ‘nasty’ food as they called it, I make sure and pack their lunch daily,” responded Sherry Morris.
Cynthia Bourne described the food as “horrible,” adding “I’m sure it’s going to get worse.”
Yvette Forehand is a teacher in the district who wrote “ I bring my lunch now. It’s not good.”
The Times visited McDonald Elementary School — where a large Chick-fil-A advertisement is on display in the front lobby — during one lunch period last week. The students did not seem dissatisfied with their meals. However, it was hot dog day so it’s unknown if they are as satisfied when other types of meals are served.
Will Owens, a fifth-grader at the school, said he never leaves school hungry. However, he said he does miss the cake with icing and brownies that were served on a regular basis in years past.
Things are different
Jan Knox, Georgetown County’s School Food Services director, says no one is imagining things. The meals are different this year.
What has happened, she said, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture — following the U.S. dietary guidelines — has issued mandates reducing the amount of breads and grains that can be served to students each week. The number of calories that can be served on a single lunch tray has also been lowered to no more than 650 calories for elementary students, 700 for middle school and 850 for high schoolers.
Knox said while the calorie allowance has changed only slightly, the amounts of breads and grains that can be served is what is most noticeable.
Before this year, elementary and middle school students could be served 13-15 bread and grain servings per week. Now, that amount is limited to 10 servings. For high school, it has decreased to 12 weekly servings.
“That was a big change,” Knox explained.
The amount of meat allowed on a student’s tray has also been cut. Previously the district served 2.5 ounces of meat daily. That has now been reduced to two ounces.
As noted by Owens at McDonald School, one thing that is missing from meals most days is dessert.
Knox said because of the number of allowable fruits, grains and calories, desserts will be a rare treat for students. She said she was able to adjust the menu recently so students were allowed to receive a cookie.
In recent years, dessert was served at least twice weekly.
Another school lunch staple that vanished from the elementary and middle school menu for a while this year has returned, but only after a change at the manufacturer.
Knox said the pizza served in schools is Tony’s Smart Pizza which, until recently, was 2.25 servings of grain per slice which was OK for high schools but 0.25 servings more than allowed for elementary schools.
The company was notified and made changes to the recipe and each slice now has 1.75 servings of grain.
She said she feels the USDA should have made the changes slowly over time rather than do it all this year.
“It’s been complicated and frustrating,” she said.
Knox said even though portion sizes have been reduced, trays are not empty because things such as dessert that are no longer served have been replaced by fruits and vegetables.
She said about one-third of the USDA funding the district receives has been spent on fresh produce.
She said summer squash was purchased and every pound was used in schools.
“The students loved it,” she said.
Principal: Very few complaints
Even though the Internet has been full of complaints about the lunch changes, Knox said she has received only a few calls.
The calls she has received were from parents saying their children were hungry when they got home from school.
McDonald principal Miriam Daniels said she has not heard from any parents on the issue.
Daniels said she has been amazed at the amount of salad that is being consumed by her students.
“The kids like them,” she said. It’s a different time. They seem to enjoy different types of salads,” Daniels said.
By Scott Harper
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