Heather Nellis/Recorder staff Fonda-Fultonville Central School District senior Brianna Winslow and John Morey are pictured during their lunch period Tuesday.
By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
If pushing away her nearly-full tray wasn't a clear enough indication of how Fonda-Fultonville High School senior Brianna Winslow felt about her lunch, it was explicit in her queasy face.
"It has no flavor -- it tastes like mush," she said of the rice, carrot and pea mixture that accompanied her chicken nuggets.
Food service worker Deborah Marshall said she made the rice dish with only water, following the recipe that complies with federal nutrition mandates introduced this year.
"We're not allowed to make the rice with salt or butter," Marshall said. "Sometimes, if we're serving a stirfry, we might make it with soy sauce, but the side generally goes with what the entree is."
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented nationwide to help curb childhood obesity and make school lunches more nutritious, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which crafted sweeping changes that eliminated Fonda-Fultonville cafeteria favorites like pizza wraps, the salad bar and squirt-bottles of ketchup.
But the law seems to be backfiring. The new meals fit the rules, but they're getting tossed into the trash.
That particularly goes for the fruits and veggies students are required to put on their trays, says district food service Director Darla Sandford.
It's the same problem at Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, said food service Director George Hanstein.
"The number of apples that are being thrown in the garbage is beyond comprehensible," Hanstein said. "We tell them they have to take the fruit, so they take it, but it gets thrown in the trash."
Even if the students eat everything they're served, they say their bellies are still grumbling when they finish.
"I miss calories, and having a full stomach," said Fonda-Fultonville senior John Morey.
"The kids are coming home hungry, with headaches, and they want to eat dinner at 3 o'clock in the afternoon," said parent Marcia McCoy.
According to the U.S.D.A.'s website, the new meal patterns limit calories and portion sizes, which are said to be balanced by an increased availability of fruits and vegetables.
There are five categories of vegetables that have minimum requirements: dark green, red or orange, starchy vegetables, a subgroup called "others," and legumes like black beans, kidney beans and pinto beans.
Grains and proteins also have minimum and maximum ranges that are based on age groups. For example, for children in grades kindergarten through eight, the district can only offer a maximum of two ounces of protein per day, when it was previously three.
"That's the difference of cheese being offered on a hamburger or a meat topping on pizza," Sandford said.
Further examples include: servings of chicken nuggets were reduced from eight to five. Pizza wraps are now pizza fold-overs because the former wraps were considered too big. Hamburgers can't be served with pasta salad because the burger bun meets the max for grains.
Even the salad bar had to be ended, because it would be difficult control the amount of meat and cheese students put on their salads.
"Everything has to be portioned, so they can only have one ounce of meat and one ounce of cheese, or two ounces of meat, or two ounces of cheese," Sandford said.
Salad dressings have to be portioned, too, as do all other condiments, another sore subject.
"If you get a big salad, all you get is a small container of ranch dressing that's half full," said Fonda-Fultonville student Courtney Putnam. "It only covers a couple leaves of lettuce."
"Our students are used to having larger portions, and we were proud to be able to serve them," said Sandford. "But there's nothing I can do about the portion sizes.
"It's fine to give us a minimum, but the biggest problem is putting a cap on those items. One-size-fits-all doesn't work for all students, especially student athletes who need the calories."
Hanstein indicated the same.
"The athletes are all complaining, telling me 'I need calories, I have to work out.' And I say, 'Believe me, I want to feed you.'"
"I think we all agree we want to serve healthy meals, and I think we were," Hanstein said. "It's not a bad idea to try to make things better, but the problem is the way they went about it."
If students want extra of something -- a second helping, a second ketchup packet -- they can pay for it. But F-FCSD Treasurer Carey Shultz said that's created misconceptions that the district is looking for a way to generate extra revenue.
That's not the case, he said, rather the program's aim is to be self-sufficient, or pay for itself. And if the district doesn't follow the guidelines, it chances the federal reimbursements that help keep the program self-sufficient.
But it appears that's a double-edged sword, because less students are buying school lunch. The proof of is in the sugar-free, non-fat pudding -- according to an analysis of lunches served between September and November, the district served 11,679 more meals in 2011 than it has this year.
Last year, 47,415 lunches were served in that time frame, but this year, that number has dropped to 35,736.
That's problematic because if the school lunch program isn't generating enough revenue to pay for itself, the district could run into a problem at the end of the year by having to subsidize it with a severely cash-strapped general fund.
But the Fonda-Fultonville students don't find the offerings appetizing, and they're not buying school lunch anymore.
"It's not what it used to be. I used to eat school lunch every day," said junior Anthony Angioli. "I ate school lunch about one month this year, and then I said, 'This is ridiculous,' and now I bring my lunch."
At the table where Angioli sat, 10 classmates felt the same, as not a single one of them sat with a school lunch tray in front of them.
They're not pointing fingers at the food service workers, though.
"I don't fault the lunch ladies -- they used to make mad good pizza wraps," said Omijah Piening, a senior who said he used to eat school lunches regularly. "I know they're cooking what's in front of them. But I will not eat school lunch."
Marshall said she thinks the numbers are picking back up, however. On the first day of school, only 125 lunches were purchased, but on Tuesday, it was 171.
"People don't like change, even adults," she said. "But the numbers are slowly coming up, and I think the kids will eventually get used to it," she said.