In an effort to monitor the effects of the new federal lunch policy changes, Lake County school leaders in Florida have proposed using surveys or installing trash cams — cameras mounted on cafeteria garbage bins — to determine what portion of students’ lunches are destined for the dumpster.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Lake County schools were the only ones in Central Florida last year to phase in the new rules a year before they were required. Officials estimated that students tossed $75,000 worth of produce in the garbage, prompting school board members to call for stricter trash monitoring to determine what specifically about the new policy is working, and what isn’t.
The new federal requirements, which represent the first major nutritional school meal overhaul in over a decade, offer less sodium and trans fats, more whole grains and a broader selection of fruits and vegetables to the 32 million students who take part in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The rules also place a calorie cap on lunches: 650 calories for elementary school lunches, 700 for middle schools and 850 for high schools.
According to ABC News, students are throwing away twice as much food from school meals as they did last year. In response to student outcry, GOP lawmakers have introduced a bill, titled the "No Hungry Kids Act," that would repeal the calorie maximums.
Changes to the school lunch policy also demand more frequent food audits, which count calories and nutrients like protein and calcium. Those who pass will receive an extra six cents in addition to the $2.77 they receive for an average free lunch.
Districts that do not comply with regulations risk losing thousands of dollars annually in federal funding.
The trash-cam approach can prove costly, however, as the Sentinel reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $2 million on a similar endeavor last year at five San Antonio elementary schools. Cameras photograph students' lunch trays before they sit down to eat and later take a snapshot of the leftovers. A computer program then analyzes the photos to identify every piece of food on the plate and calculates the number of calories each student consumed. The cameras, about the size of pocket flashlights, point only toward the trays and don't photograph the students.
Elsewhere in Florida, schools have turned to installing a school garden that supplies the cafeteria salad bar, or inviting chefs to cook appetizing recipes and elicit feedback from students.
According to the Sentinel, a 2002 congressional report found that uneaten lunchtime food nationwide costs taxpayers about $600 million or more a year. The paper reports that school districts in Texas and Massachusetts are in talks with researchers who will monitor lunchtime trash, though skepticism remains about whether this strategy will yield a solution to the problem.
Students should have at least one serving of grains each day, and one-half of offerings must be rich in whole grain. Grades K-5: 8 to 9 servings per week Grades 6-8: 8 to 10 servings per week Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 servings per week
Nuts, tofu, cheese and eggs can be substituted for meat in some cases. Grades K-5: 8 to 10 ounces per week Grades 6-8: 9 to 10 ounces per week Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 ounces per week
Fat-free, low-fat and lactose-free milk options are allowable. Grades K-12: 1 cup per day
Only half of the weekly fruit requirement can come from juice. Grades K-8: One-half cup per day Grades 9-12: One cup per day
Weekly requirements for vegetable subgroups, including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and others. Grades K-8: Three-quarters cup per day Grades 9-12: One cup per day
By July 2014, sodium levels for lunches should not exceed: Grades K-5: 640 milligrams Grades 6-8: 710 milligrams Grades 9-12: 740 milligrams A timetable sets targets for further reducing sodium levels by 2022.
No more than 10 percent saturated fats. No trans-fat, except for those naturally occurring in meat and dairy products.
Calories can be averaged over the week. Grades K-5: 550 to 650 per day Grades 6-8: 600 to 700 per day Grades 9-12: 750 to 850 per day