The Obama administration has campaigned to reduce the nation’s fat, which has been growing at an alarming rate. The percentage of kids aged 6-11 who are obese has more than doubled in the past three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese adolescents aged 12-19 have more than tripled. Extra pounds mean extra health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, adding expense to an industry that already swallows 20 percent of the American economy.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act required schools to limit lunches to no more than 650 calories for elementary kids, 700 for middle schoolers and 850 for high schoolers. Students must be offered a vegetable, a fruit, a low-fat or non-fat milk, a protein and a grain. They must pick at least three, one of which must be a vegetable or a fruit. A student also could satisfy the fruit or veggie requirement by choosing a juice without added sugar.
“We’re not trying to create waste,” said Olga Botero, Miami-Dade schools executive director of food and nutrition.
When the standards kicked in last fall, there were a number of reports of students rebelling at being forced to eat vegetables. The New York Times found hundreds of kids in a Wisconsin school boycotting the cafeteria and students in a small town in western Kansas creating a parody video. (In it, athletes keel over in the gym for lack of nourishment and kids stash bags of chips in their lockers to keep from starving.) Even Comedy Central’s The Daily Show got into the act, showing a New York school waste can overflowing with vegetables.
South Florida school nutrition experts say objections were more muted here because there wasn’t an overnight switch from junk to healthy foods.
“We’ve been ahead of this,” said Parham, Miami-Dade’s nutrition director. “We took off hot dogs last year. It’s been quite a while since we served corn dogs. We started whole wheat toast ahead of the requirements.” Deep fryers are gone, and so are vending machine sodas.
Darlene Moppert, manager of Broward’s nutrition education, said schools there ditched fryers in the 1990s and have offered fresh fruits — bananas, apples and such — for a decade. “It’s just that now they’re required.’’ She said she’s heard few negative comments.
At Cypress Bay in Weston, student journalist Nicole Moshe said her school has “a large amount of students who are very health conscious” and love the fresh fruits and vegetables. She did a survey on the school’s food court and found the salad line was as long as those for pizza and hamburgers.
She said “very little” of the fruits and salads are thrown out. “It comes down to the individual student. Those who are more health conscious are going to make healthier sources.”
Each county has its own regulations in addition to the federal standards. Broward allows some vendors’ products, like pizza, to be sold in some cafeterias, while Miami-Dade no longer permits outside offerings like pizza because companies can’t promise to meet healthy guidelines. This year, Miami-Dade also eliminated junk food from vending machines — much to some students’ consternation — while Broward still allows some items, like whole grain Pop-Tarts.