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Students give lunches failing grade

9/20/2012

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

School lunches long have been a source of dissatisfaction.

But recent complaints might be surprising.

It isn't the food students and teachers are complaining about, it's the quantity.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is the basis for changes to the National School Lunch Program, which has set minimum and maximum calorie counts for meals, Shiela Brening, Hays USD 489 nutrition services director, said in an August interview.

Students in grades K-5 are limited to 550 to 650 calories per lunch, grades 6 to 8 can have 600 to 700 calories per lunch and grades 9 to 12 calorie count is 750 to 850 per lunch.

"The only concern I have is that we have a lot of kids that, even if they're not economically deprived, are coming to school hungry," Brening said. "By looking at just the overweight child, I'm afraid we're doing a disservice to those that are coming to us hungry and are expecting a large amount of their calories through the day from us. We have both extremes. We do have kids that are very overweight; we have kids that are a little overweight; we have kids that are very underweight, and kids that are a little underweight. ... I don't know how we're going to fulfill the needs of those kids that come to us hungry by having that strict restriction especially on bread. That's a concern."

For instance, elementary students can have just 9 ounces of grains for the whole week. The amount is 10 to 12 ounces for high school students.

The nutrition standards are based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

For students and teachers at Wallace County USD 241, complaining just isn't enough. They've produced a YouTube parody video -- "We Are Hungry" -- of the new standards.

"It's hitting a chord. We're getting a lot of feedback," said Linda O'Connor, who teaches English and wrote the video lyrics.

The idea came about after a Facebook photo of the small portions posted by teacher Brenda Kirkhan drew a lot of comments.

Kirkhan said she's one of the few teachers who still eats lunch at the school, but she might not continue.

"I ate lunch two hours ago, and I'm hungry again," Kirkhan said Tuesday afternoon.

When the two suggested making a video, students and school staff quickly took up the idea. They also got permission from school administration.

"It's been a fun, creative process with the kids," Kirkhan said. "(We're) doing it to give the kids a voice."

They wanted it to be funny, and not offend anyone, so they told the school cooks about the scene involving burning the guidelines before shooting it.

The head cook asked if she could bring the matches, O'Connor said.

O'Connor and Kirkhan shot the video, and Kirkhan did the editing and cutting.

Some scenes depict students being lethargic and sleeping in class, dreaming of a home-cooked meal. In others, students march down the hall, loading their lockers with junk food and sugary drinks to ease their hunger pangs.

First-graders get in the act, crawling home hungry and exhausted.

While the new guidelines allow lunchroom diners to fill up on fruits and vegetables, they aren't as filling as protein and carbohydrates, Kirkhan said.

"I was disappointed with the amount of food, especially the protein," said Callahan Grund, a Wallace County High School junior, who plays a lead role in the video. "I need a big, healthy meal to get through the day."

Instead of having a healthy, filling lunch, the kids go home and fill up on junk food, Kirkhan said.

The new standards were intended to be healthier, but schools only can do so much for the childhood obesity issue, Brening said.

"We don't have the kids all the time," she said. "It's important for parents to realize they have a major role in this. What they have at their house is what the kids are going to eat. ... There's a real correlation there between what the parents are buying and what the kids are eating."

To view Wallace County schools' video, visit tinyurl.com/96wuzmg.