Could New School Lunch Rules Mean More Food In the Trash?


New federal regulations for school lunches go into effect this month. According to the revised standards, school meals must have only so many calories and only so much sodium, include bigger portions of fruits and vegetables and only use milk that is 1 percent or nonfat. Over time, whole grains are to be phased in.

More fresh fruits and vegetables on the menu means that more meals must be cooked from scratch, as well as that more fresh local fruits and vegetables (not processed ones) must be used. 95 percent of the lunch menu and about half of the breakfast one are prepared from scratch now in Denver public schools since cooking from scratch was introduced in 2010, says the New York Times:

These days, many school meals start with raw ingredients and take longer to prepare. School staples like chicken nuggets are typically baked, not tossed in the fryer, and hot dogs are more likely to be made of turkey. And even those longtime favorites are served in the cafeteria less frequently.

“Ten or 15 years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a salad bar, a fresh fruit and veggie bar, homemade pasta salads,” said Theresa Hafner, executive director of the food services department for Denver Public Schools. “You probably wouldn’t have seen homemade biscuits, or homemade hamburger buns, made with a white whole-wheat flour.”

As cooking meals from scratch is more labor-intensive, school districts have had to hire more staff — more than 100 in Denver. Plus, costs have increased as fresh produce is more expensive than processed items. In full awareness of the ways many kids eat (vs. the way we might them too), Adam Simmons, child nutrition director for the public school system in Fayetteville, Arkansas, worries about more food ending up in the trash, as portions of fruits and vegetables are discarded.

The Fayetteville district has switched to 70 percent cooking from scratch. Simmons does see the new regulations as positive, while making the point that just “Putting things on a plate doesn’t make it a nutritious meal.” Students still have to eat it.

I felt a bit astounded just to hear that public schools are cooking so much of school meals from scratch. It wasn’t that way at the Bay Area elementary and junior high schools I attended in the 1970s. Back then, the lunches in the cafeteria reminded me like nothing so much as the TV dinners in the freezer cases. I was lucky as my mother preferred to make our lunches, though I can see not every family might have time to do so or would turn to packaged, processed foods — Go-Gurt, Lunchables and such — in the name of convenience. All the better, then, if school districts can offer nutritious, tasty and appealing meals made from scratch.

Fox News lists some examples of what may be on school menus come this fall: A southwest veggie wrap a “Shrek Smoothie” including spinach, low-fat milk, vanilla yogurt, pineapple and other fruits; a Tomato Cucumber Salad; a vegetable and pasta salad; meatloaf.

Tomato and cucumber salad sounds good to me but I’m not so sure about kids eating it, or pasta salad; will the meatloaf seem just the latest recreation of “mystery meat”? Will kids eat these meals?

Related Care2 Coverage

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School Hamburgers Contain 25 Ingredients That Aren’t Meat

Hold the Fries! USDA Calls to Raise Nutrition Standards in School Meals



Photo by USDAgov


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

a step in the right direction! i think most kids would eat fruit.. the veggies would be the issue. hide them? like in pastas and such.. where they wont be seen or tasted as much

Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

wchi w: "Kids WILL over time, eat these meals."

Children will eat those meals? A tomato cucumber salad with some broccoli? How more delusional and naive can you get?

Wood Sprite G.
Eat Vegan D5 years ago

Most kids won't eat broccolli, spinach, etc. Also, there's no need to make breads from scratch with several "natural" & "organic" commercial bakeries out there. Why don't towns & schools and prisons have gardens? Seeds don't cost much, schools always have patches of land around.

Imagine growing food at school, saving seeds, (one tomato can have 20-100 seeds in it, & one lettuce plant I let go to seed, had 800 seeds, from only one original seed,) then letting the kids take home seeds, and try growing their own at home. One of my tomato plants has 15 tomatoes on it. Cities, could use dwarf or micro plants, which still have reasonable yields on much smaller plants, that could be put almost anywhere.

What about local farm contracts? I think there's no excuse, if towns REALLY wanted to be self supportive. There are people with horses, etc that are too happy to have manure removed.

Permaculture is awesome, any "wasted" food could go to a local farm to feed chickens (fresh eggs), rabbits (manure), etc, to make a whole no waste cycle.

Merredith L.
Merredith L5 years ago

Kids dont want to eat the crappy food that they serve in the lunchrooms. i never did! school lunches used to be made from scratch, and they are in a lot of other countries. once kids realize that the food theyre being served is tasty, they'll eat it. positive reinforcement from home would help too. if you want children to do well in school and grow up healthy, you have to put real things rather than trash into their stomachs. the new menu sounds awesome and i can't think of a bad thing about this new program!

Wendy F.
Wendy F5 years ago

In the beginning things will end up in the trash but kids need to be taught how to eat. They need to be introduced to new foods and they will develop a taste for them over time. No one said it would be easy but you have to start somewhere!

Zully O.
Zully O5 years ago

we need to teach parents about right nutrition

Don T.
Don Tolliver5 years ago

Will it mean more food in the trash?? Probably, but not necessarily. At first, those kids that are used to eating junk served at school will take some time to adapt, but in their youth they will have plenty of time to do so. All in all, I believe it's worth a few more trash bags during the "learning curve".

Pirjo Ho
Past Member 5 years ago


Jessica O.
Jessica O5 years ago

I refuse to buy junk for my kids my younger one will anything, my older refuses to eat veggies....eventually she gets hungry enough and eats the healthy food.