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Acton Students Speak Out on Changes to School Lunch Menus

Why would a Facebook group titled "Don't Buy RJ Grey Lunch" get 1,110 hits?

Upon arriving home after his first day of school, RJ Grey, eighth grader Michael Gecawicz headed to the kitchen to fix a second lunch for himself. Then he sat down at his computer.

While this may be standard routine for many 13 year-old boys, Michael said he was exceptionally hungry that day, even after buying and eating lunch at school. And his motivation for logging on: creating a Facebook group called “Don’t Buy RJ Grey Lunch.”

Michael, who purchased lunch at school every day as a seventh grader, was reacting to changes he observed in the lunchroom since June.

“All the snacks and juices I used to get were gone,” he said. “The food quantities have gone down. And the prices have gone up.”

Classmate Connor Cates said, “They took away most of the extras. There are no more of the Izze drinks, iced tea, or lemonade. They got different cookies, and they sell one in a pack instead of two.”

McCarthy -Towne siblings Kelsey and Kyler Maira have noticed differences in their school’s lunches as well.

“The pizza has gotten smaller,” said Kyler.

“They give you three smiley fries with your hamburger,” said Kelsey. “The mini bagels are the size of a half dollar. The chicken patties are different; they’re even worse than last year.”

These cafeteria changes are a result of new USDA standards required by The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Guidelines include adhering to minimum and maximum portion sizes of meats and grains/breads, offering a wider variety and quantity of vegetables, and lowering the calorie count, sodium levels and saturated fats in school lunches.

All students are now required to take at least ½ cup of fruit or vegetable as part of their lunch. Cafeteria staff have been charged with ensuring that the students choose three of the five food groups offered—meat, vegetable, fruit, grain, milk—as well.

Students at the high school have had mixed reactions to the changes in their lunchroom.

“The fruit idea is a good one,” said sophomore Nick Long. “But a lot of times the fruit is very ripe or not yet ripe, and a lot of people end up throwing it out.”

ABRHS Principal Alixe Callen was asked so many questions about the changes in lunchroom fare that she emailed a memo to the entire student body. It was authored by Kirsten Nelson, Food Service Director for Acton Public and Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools, and included a list of the new mandates.

“The new standards are based on research and current understanding of human nutrition and prevention of diseases and health conditions including obesity,” Nelson wrote. These national changes, the first in 15 years, "will cause everyone across the country to comply with a uniform set of high standards for meals for all children.”

“Menus will not look terribly different,” Nelson explained.

Juniors Max Ahern and Tyler St. Lawrence, who have been leaving school during their lunch period and eating elsewhere, disagree with Nelson’s assertion.

“Nobody eats it,” said Max of the new food.

"A lot of it ends up getting wasted,” said Tyler.

Luciana Petcu, Sonia Richmond, Kim Dixon and Christian Thiim had lunch at Bagels Plus on a recent school day.

“There was nothing that we wanted,” Luciana said of the group having perused the offerings in the cafeteria before deciding to head out.

“The food isn’t popular anymore,” she said. “Even the underclassmen are trying to leave.”

Nelson’s statistics do indicate a decrease in the number of students buying lunch at school, but not to the extent one might expect.

“We have seen a slight drop from this year to last, a difference of 130 lunches a day,” she said.

As far as the waste goes, Nelson shares Nick’s concern. “We are going through a ton of produce. Unfortunately, if the students do not eat the produce it either ends up in the trash or compost bin.”

There has been recent negative press about The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 Some writers and talk show hosts blamed Michelle Obama for influencing the USDA and dictating what kids can eat at school.

Nick is not opposed to teaching kids about nutrition, which he feels is the real goal behind the new regulations. He’s seen “junior high kids take five packs of cookies and nothing else.”

“I think it’s better in the health department that there are limits,” he said. But if the towns decided for themselves, with input from parents, it would be better.”

One might surmise that the local school system is being forced to comply with the new guidelines lest they lose out on federal funding.

“Yes, that is true,” said Nelson. “It is a substantial amount of money for our district.”

 

Have your kids been complaining about the school lunches? Should this legislation have been adopted? Are Acton kids at risk for obesity and other health issues due to poor diets?



 



KarenL October 05, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Yes, the Healthy Hunger Free Act has forced changes, but the choices made for the schools seem to try to toe the line rather than embrace the concept.
An Lai October 05, 2012 at 06:45 PM
The "one size fits all "concept does not work. There are more creative ways to disguise veggies & fruits . Certainly the athletes need more fuel in their bodies. A carb is a carb is a carb does not always add up.....especially if it winds up in the trash.
Charlie Kadlec October 05, 2012 at 07:30 PM
If Obamacare is implemented, will the federal government be prescribing what adults have to eat to receive medical care ? Charlie Kadlec Acton
SlunchSeeYa October 05, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Do you dislike school lunches? If so like this Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/slunchseeya). Even if you don’t hate them you still can add your opinion. Once it is big enough I will send it in to the white house to be read by Michelle Obama. She will see how we feel by the photos we upload, polls, and discussions. So please let’s make change happen!
Matt J October 05, 2012 at 10:06 PM
As an eight grader, I have seen kids take nothing but junk food, and that's a bad thing.However, I understand where Michelle Obama is coming from, but I feel as if our lunches are of very poor quality and the school is not going about it the right way. If they want to make our lunches healthier, they should give us more whole grain stuff and fresh fruit and veg, not less of the same unhealthy stuff. Getting up every morning and making my own lunch is not what I had in mind, but it's better that buying and eating the lunches that the school gives us.
Michael Fleming October 07, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Kids and parents....here is something you both need to learn: relying on the government for the big things is within reason. Roads, dams, the military, etc. but when you start getting FED by the government when you can afford to make your own lunch, that's when the line needs to be drawn. The more you get used to having them put their big noses into your lives, the more control over it they will exercise. Want to send them a message? Bring your own lunch and put whatever you damn well please in it! The more dependent you become on their money, their regulations and their restrictions on your personal freedoms, the less you'll notice those freedoms being scaled back, little by little, in small unnoticeable increments. A little here, a little there...no one will notice. Fight back! Get up a little earlier, make your own lunch and proudly bring that lunch into school everyday as a sign that you won't take their crap any longer, whether it's their crappy "We know better than you" attitude, or it's the crap they try to put on your lunch tray! Revolt!
An Lai October 07, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Students! Declare your independence from school lunches! Make /bring your own & you will spend less time in line & have more time to eat your meal. Also, it's not a good idea for students to be going offsite to buy lunch. Maybe Acton needs a few Food Trucks!! Just sayin'.....heheh
James October 24, 2012 at 01:43 PM
This is no different than a parent paying a child to eat their vegtables, except it is really paying Acton to put food on tray that gets thrown out on the other side of the wall. The federal government, under the guise of "helping fund food for the less fortunate", uses money to coerce behavior in every school lunch room. The idea that we are borrowing from China, to subsidize lunches in Acton, so someone in Washington can tell us what to feed our kids, seems more than a little bizarre to me. Beyond the freedom and central control themes, I guarantee you that more money will be spent by Acton families/kids at local lunch spots and in taking lunches to school than will be received from the Feds. It will just be impossible to track, so non one will see the tradeoff. This is like a second-order tax. No one likes the food, so they go out at lunch, or bring lunch from school, but there is no drop in spending in the lunch budget at the school. On either point, this is just a terrible dynamic for our kids, our town, our budgets and our freedoms.
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