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School lunches: Students protest less portions, rising nutrition

School lunches are changing due to new federal guidelines requiring school districts to serve more grains, fruits, and veggies. Michelle Obama promoted "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010," which touts these changes but students are not thrilled.

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But Blohm is a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound linebacker. He’s also class president, and takes several Advanced Placement classes. If schools want students to perform well, he said, they can’t be sitting in their chairs hungry.

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Last year’s fare featured favorites like chicken nuggets and mini corn dogs in helpings that were “relatively decent,” Bougneit said. But health-conscious regulations have changed that. Last week’s super nacho plate, for example, offered just eight tortilla chips.

Adding to the dissatisfaction is a 10-cent price hike on lunches because the USDA, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, forced many districts to raise full-price lunches closer to the $2.86 it reimburses for students who qualify for free lunches. That means the leaner, greener lunches at Mukwonago High this year now cost $2.50 instead of $2.40.

“Now it’s worse-tasting, smaller-sized and higher-priced,” Bougneit said.

Pam Harris, the district food service supervisor and a registered dietitian, said children’s weight and poor nutrition in America are serious problems, but the changes are too abrupt.

“I could not be more passionate about this,” Harris said. “I want to solve this problem. But limiting calories in school lunch is not going to help the overweight kid. What happens at home is a major piece of that puzzle.”

“Our issue is pretty much kids just don’t want to eat vegetables,” she said. “The USDA wants to solve the problem of childhood obesity. Those are two kind of separate issues.”

Harris spoke at all lunch periods recently to explain the federal dietary changes and had students fill out comment cards explaining what they do and don’t like about the new menu. She plans to send those andparent letters to the USDA in hopes the department will allow districts to gradually introduce their menu over a few years.

In a clothing store bag the size of a backpack, Blohm lugged his homemade, linebacker-size lunch including a bag of raw carrots, two ham sandwiches on wheat bread, two granola bars, an apple and three applesauce cups — an estimated total of 1,347 calories.

How long will the students keep boycotting the lunch program?

“I’ve already told my mom we might be packing my lunch for the rest of the year,” Blohm said.

Clay Iverson, Mukwonago’s varsity football head coach, said student-athletes are bigger, stronger and more athletic than ever before, and their food intake needs have evolved.

“Everything has been accelerated, and maybe nutrition hasn’t been,” he said.

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