New school lunches: Controversy or no big deal?


But across the country, youngsters are complaining that the new rules leave them hungry.

This fall, our kids' lunch trays came packed with politics. The federal government implemented new rules, pushed at least in part by the First Lady and designed to get our kids to eat healthier. Forcing things like fruits and veggies onto the plates and questioning the value of pizza and chicken nuggets.

It sounds well-intentioned, but it's caused a huge uproar. And when you look closer, you may wonder why.

For as long as kids have gone to school, school lunch has had a bad rap.

"I usually get the pizza," said student Shanese Smalls.

But this year it's not just kids complaining. New rules from the federal government and promoted by Michelle Obama somehow squeezed politics into the lunch box.

A Youtube video from complaining Kansas high schoolers has more than 800,000 hits. It was a star on Fox and The Today Show, even ABC World News. Conservative Republican Iowa Congressman Steve King wants the new lunch rules repealed calling them "subsistence diets" pushed by "a nanny state."

So just how are the feds torturing our kids at lunch?

"We can't force a child to take a fruit or vegetable, but certainly we want them to," said Darin Crawford with Cy Fair ISD Food Service

Yes, Crawford tells us, the new rules say to get the regular lunch price at America's schools a student has to put half a cup of fruit or vegetables on their plate.

Ted Oberg: Against the rules.
(Then putting apple on a tray.)
Oberg: Compliant.
Darin Crawford: Correct.
Oberg: It doesn't seem like that big of a deal.
Crawford: Correct.

They don't have to eat it, they just have to put it on their plate.

The new rules do limit calories. A middle school lunch can only have 750 calories. Remember critics call that a subsistence diet.

"If a child took all of that, it's about 760 calories total," said Crawford.

That's a pretty full plate and it's the same number of calories in a McDonalds' quarter pounder with cheese, small fries and a Diet Coke. The difference under the new rules is where the calories come from.

Ted Oberg: So to be full at the end of lunch, you've gotta eat everything on your plate.
Darin Crawford: That is what it was designed to be, and that is what we recommend.

"The same thing that's going on in our own homes, it's on the national news," said school lunch blogger Bettina Siegel.

Siegel is a Houston blogger who's attracted national attention for her posts on school lunches. For her, the real issue in the new rules is neither the politics nor the calorie maximums, but getting kids used to eating healthy at school.

"People don't eat vegetables," said one Lamar high schooler eating ice cream.

And Siegel says teenagers used to pizza and chicken nuggets just may not get it.

"For those kids who are coming in now, they won't know any other kind of lunch. And I think that's the test. We need to see how those kids do with this new school lunch. The kids who for 10 years have been eating something else are not really a good measure," she said.

If hungry kids want more of anything, they can simply pay more for it. Kids have to take healthier food; they don't have to eat it and that does create the potential for more waste at schools.

Both HISD and Cy Fair ISD say they haven't seen a lot more waste. But look at some of the strategies: Cy Fair's own research shows kids don't eat whole fruit apples or bananas, so they switched to these apple chips and sliced fruit.

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