Hunger-Free Kids Act Leaves Inver Grove Students Hungry
The new federal legislation cuts portion sizes and requires more fruits and vegetables, something District 199's food service director says is generating complaints from hungry students.
Cathi Krick, District 199’s food service director, has some serious problems with the federal overhaul of the National School Lunch Program that went into effect this fall as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Krick said that while she is appreciative of the long-term goal of getting kids hooked on fruits and vegetables, the new requirements, which emphasize fruits and vegetables and set limits on sodium and calories, are costing more and leaving kids hungry.
Krick said it can be painful to watch the effects on students of the new law’s cap on meal size—750-850 calories per lunch, and fewer for breakfast.
“They don’t feel like they’re getting enough to eat because we’re so limited in what we can offer now,” she said. “Especially the bigger boys, the bigger kids, not so much elementary—that’s doable—it’s the middle school that I think is the worst, I don’t think the calories are high enough for them.”
Since her schools started serving reduced meal sizes, she’s had students—boys, mostly—come up to kitchen staff and tell them, “I’m hungry.”
The Minnesota Department of Education has maintained that students are being given enough food—they just need to eat it.
“If students are feeling hungry after eating a school lunch,” the department writes in the FAQ section of its website, “we need to consider that they may be “choosing” to go hungry rather than make their food item selections from the bounty of fruits and vegetables, and reasonable portion sizes of meat/meat alternates, grains and milk choices that are offered this school year.
Krick has seen an increase in a la carte purchases by students to supplement meals, but she said it’s possible that poorer students enrolled in the Free and Reduced-Price Meal program may be going hungry.
The new law mandates that each student receive a half cup of fruit or vegetables per meal—but there’s no guarantee that students actually eat it.
“The goal is to expose the students to more fruits and vegetables and so eventually they will eat more vegetables,” Krick said. “The positive is that they’re taking it; hopefully they’re eating it—it’s very expensive so hopefully they’re eating it.”
Schools receive six additional cents per meal under the new requirements, but Krick said it’s not enough.
“There’s not enough funding when you have to offer as much fruit as we have to offer now,” she said. “We’ve always had one of the lowest meal charges in any district around, but that’s changing.”
The school lunch law is still in flux—a portion limitation on grain and protein was lifted in response to protests—and menu requirements for next year are still up in the air.
“I have no clue what I’ll be serving in the fall,” Krick said.