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Are schools starving hungry students?

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By Meaghan Downs

Kids’ stomachs are grumbling, and so are critics of the new national nutritional standards for school lunch.
Although the new guidelines for healthier meals have been officially in place through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 since the beginning of the school year, criticism flared anew last month about the new caloric limits for lunches.
High school students from Kansas complained about their apparent hunger through a medium sure to spread their message virally — YouTube.
As of press time, the “We Are Hungry” YouTube clip received almost a million hits, showing students slumped over and clutching their stomachs.
But are our kids, here in Anderson County, really getting enough to eat?
Anderson County Food Service Director Marsha Rogers said new standards include not only calorie limits, but also mandates like two servings of whole wheat bread servings per week and two servings each of red and/or orange vegetables and dark leafy greens.
Calorie limits for lunch for elementary students are 550-650 calories; middle school students can consume 600-700 calories; and high school students can eat 750-850 calories.
To put it into perspective: one Big Mac from McDonald’s (a restaurant that is arguably not known for low-calorie foods, but is frequently used as a quick and easy dinner option) is 550 calories.
So far, one has complained about the new lunches, Rogers said. But she and other food directors have a few criticisms of their own.
Nutrition is important to Rogers, but she said many food service directors across the state are fighting the federal calorie maximums for school lunches.
Every student’s metabolism is different, Rogers said; the 300-pound football player is going to need more fuel than the 90-pound chorus girl.
“Industry has got to reformulate a lot of things for us in order to meet these new standards,” she said.  
Extra food is not off-limits to Anderson County students; hungry kids can still purchase second helpings a la carte, Rogers said, and everyone is welcome to extra servings of fruits and vegetables.
But extra servings are being discouraged and are not accounted for in the federally reimbursable meals, Rogers said, which may be a good thing for students.
“That’s teaching them to make wise choices,” she said.  
Schools only have access to students’ diets for 340 meals out of the year, Rogers said, and with cuts in mandatory physical education, there’s only so much they can do to curb childhood obesity other than look at students’ diets.
“We’re limited as to what we can do other than education,” she said.
And if the school district doesn’t uphold the national standards (Rogers said this year won’t count for or against districts), it could lose reimbursement from the federal government.
“If a child’s hungry, it’s our job to feed them,” Rogers said. “That’s what we do.”

Speaking of children, The Anderson News wants to publish your Halloween photos!  Are you a die-hard Halloween decorator, and want to show off your seasonal hard work? Going trick-or-treating (or trunk-or-treating) in full costume? Send a high-quality photo to staff writer Meaghan Downs at mdowns@theandersonnews.com and look for your photo in print and online!