Healthier school lunches, required for the
first time this year, are getting some push back from students and
teachers across the USA who say they are still hungry after eating the
A new YouTube video parody, created by two teachers and some high school students in Kansas, has students singing We Are Hungry
as they try to make it through the school day. Among the lyrics:
"Give me some seconds/ I need to get some food today/ My friends are at
the corner store/ Getting junk so they don't waste away." The video had
been viewed more than 100,000 times by early Tuesday evening.
students from Massachusetts to South Dakota have spoken out about the
new meals on websites and blogs, and some are brown-bagging it as a
boycott to the healthier school meals.
chicken nuggets one day. Last year we got six and this year we only got
three," says Callahan Grund, a 16-year-old football player at Wallace
County High School in Sharon Springs, Kansas, who is featured in the
video. "We had pork cutlets the other day and that was really small
compared to last year."
At the heart of the
hoopla: New government nutrition standards, which went into effect this
year in a bid to combat childhood obesity, require schools to serve
more variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. And for the
first time, there are limits on the calories that can be served at meals
based on students' ages. Plus, there are limits on the amounts of
grains and proteins that can be served over the course of a week.
standards raise the nutrition bar for the first time in more than 15
years. Schools must meet the standards to get federal meal
are several key differences between the previous standards and the
updated ones. For instance, the old standards for lunch required that a
daily minimum of 825 calories be offered to seventh through 12th
graders; the updated standards call for a minimum of 750 calories and a
maximum of 850 calories that can offered at lunch for high school
The meat guidelines are more
complex. The old standards set a 1.5- to 2-ounce daily minimum of a meat
or meat alternate such as cheese, peanut butter or tofu. Now there is a
daily minimum and weekly maximums. So for instance, high school
students must be served at least two ounces of a meat or meat alternate
daily as a minimum, but that can't exceed 12 ounces on a weekly basis.
Younger kids are offered less. There are similar requirements for
The biggest part of the problem with
the new school lunch is the reduced amount of protein from meat in the
meal from previous years, says Brenda Kirkham, art and publications
teacher at Wallace County High School. She came up with the idea of the We Are Hungry video (set to the tune of fun.'s We Are Young) because she felt like she was "starving" after lunch.
"We wanted to give kids a voice and make fun of something that's very frustrating for us -- but not be over-the-top angry."
Linda O'Connor, an English teacher at Wallace High who wrote the lyrics
for the song in the video, says students have been complaining all year
that they're not being offered enough food. "Most of our kids are
active in physical education and sports, and they work on farms. That
two ounces of meat daily wasn't enough. By 1:30 to 2 o'clock they
complain about how hungry they are.
do this for political purposes. We did this for educational purposes.
We didn't expect it to hit a nerve like we have. We wanted to teach
kids, if there is something they want to speak out against, go ahead and
do that. That's part of being here in the great land of the United
States of America."
Grund calls Sharon Springs
"a very small farming and ranching community. I do own animals. I do
chores before school and I have football practice after school and then
chores after that, and I need a large healthy meal to help me get
through the day."
Still, nutrition experts say
that there's not a lot of beef behind complaints from the students and
teachers about the updated standards.
the new standards were implemented, some schools may have been serving a
lot of protein to keep their customers happy, "but none of us need as
much protein as a lot of us eat," says Leah Schmidt, president-elect of
the School Nutrition Association and director of Nutrition Services for
Hickman Mills School District, in Kansas City, Mo. Besides meat and meat
alternatives, students get protein in milk and legumes, she says.
an outdated idea that kids aren't getting enough protein -- most kids
are eating twice the recommended amount," says Margo Wootan, director of
nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a
consumer group that fought for healthier school meals.
850 calories at lunch is enough for most high schoolers, she says.
"Not all students are linebackers, and we shouldn't feed them like they
A large national study showed that under
the old standards, high school students were offered an average of 857
calories a day, and they were taking only about 787 calories on average,
Wootan says. So the current maximum of 850 calories is right on track,
The government's dietary guidelines
give a range of calorie recommendations for 14- to 18-year-olds from
1,800 calories a day (from all meals and snacks) for someone who is
sedentary to 2,400 calories for an active teen.
athletes who may need more food throughout the day can purchase
additional a la carte items to supplement their school lunch or bring a
snack from home, Wootan says.
"Really active athletes may need more than the lunch, but that's not our
normal customer in the school lunch line. Not everybody needs all those
calories. Lunch is not meant to be 100% of their calories for the day."
says her district lets students take as many fruits and vegetables at
lunch as they want from self-serve bars. "That's probably the healthiest
way to add more calories if they're not getting full at lunch."
says the teachers and students have no problem with the extra produce.
"We love the extra fruits and vegetables. We like the freshness factor
The quality of school meals has
been hotly debated for years because one-third of U.S. kids are
overweight or obese. A 2010 law, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act
directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update nutrition
standards for all food served in schools.
standards are designed to improve the health of about 32 million
children who eat lunch at school every day and about 12 million who eat
breakfast there as well. Kids consume about 30% to 50% of their daily
calories while at school.