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Rebellion in the Heartland Over School Lunch Calorie Reductions

For the first time since it subjected conscientious objectors to severe calorie restrictions during World War II, the federal government is again experimenting with diet restrictions for schoolchildren.

Changes in school lunch programs to get more fruits and vegetables on the menu – and cut the fat and salt – have gained much attention in the last couple of years. But lately, some kids in those lunch lines have been calling attention to another aspect to all the top-down tampering in the school kitchen.

Calorie restrictions that limit high school students to about 850 calories are being blamed for growling stomachs and student athletes without the energy to compete.

There are indeed signs that students are rising up against these dictates from the National School Lunch program. Kansas, especially Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, has emerged as ground zero for the movement. Students there have produced “We Are Hungry,” a YouTube video that takes on the calorie restrictions head on.

Calorie restrictions never seem to go very well for Uncle Sam. The World War II experiment was bust even through the conscientious objectors were willing subjects in the program.

The plan was to see how the American men would do on a restricted calorie diet of potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, dark bread, macaroni, milk, chicken toast and jam. This was the kind of food available in war-torn Europe.

Psychology Today magazine in a review of the war program last year said that on 1,600 calories a day, men suffered from lethargy, irritability and anxiety. They lost their sex drive and could not concentrate. The magazine said the outcomes were “horrible.”

The unintended consequences experienced by those conscientious objectors during the war sound very similar to those being reported by students today about the school lunch rationing.

“There’s just not enough,” said Callahan Grund, a 16-year-old football player at Wallace County High School. He told the Wichita Eagle that the food restrictions at school have left him without enough energy to do chores in the morning and participate in football practice in the afternoon.

Calorie maximums under the new federal dictates are 650 calories for elementary children, 700 for middle schoolers and 850 for high school students. Many parents are concerned about high school athletes, who can burn 3,000 calories a day.

At least one bill has been introduced in Congress to lift the calorie restrictions, which are imposed under the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” It was the same law that dictated changes in the menu mix for school lunches.

Until calorie restrictions were written into the school lunch program, American experience with actual caloric reduction regimes has been rare. Food rationing during World War II focused on distribution of scare stocks–like sugar, not calories.

General Eisenhower did impose severe calorie restrictions on occupied Germany during the winter after World War II in favor of feeding France, England, and displaced persons who were victims of the Nazis.

Many Germans viewed calorie restrictions as punishment for the war, but they were lifted with the post war recovery of agriculture around the world.

The new school lunch restrictions are mostly taking the form of portion size. A major purpose of the 2010 act is fighting obesity. Many of the students now objecting to being put on rations say they don’t mind the healthier fare; they just can’t make it on 850 calories.

Reports are also coming in that many students are dropping out of the school lunch program for what ever they can find at the nearest convenience or grocery store. A Wisconsin school district has seen its number of school lunches cut in half by boycotting students.

School dietitians say the idea behind the reductions was to spread out calorie intake throughout the day, meaning several small meals at school and home instead of just one big school lunch.

© Food Safety News
  • And if student athletes need more food, than the sports departments should provide additional food for them to eat. After all, sports departments in schools are about the only ones still fully funded in most schools.
    For low income students, rather than expand lunches, also provide subsidized breakfasts and after school snacks–spread the food out, rather than pack it all in, in one meal.
    Frankly, I don’t think this is a problem. I think this is nothing more than a way for the big agricultural companies to push to include more of their garbage in schools.
    And isn’t one of the complaints about school lunches the amount of food generally wasted by the students?

    • megan

      the school lunches should be based on the kid not just the same for everyone. the kids should choose how much food they want so they don’t have too much or too little.

  • Michael Bulger

    This reminds me of Tweet I read yesterday: “I ate bacon cheeseburgers dipped in nacho cheese in high school. AND I STILL COMPLAINED ABOUT LUNCH.”
    With that in perspective, if children aren’t eating a proper breakfast than they are going to be hungry. A small percentage of high schoolers who are male athletes might not find sufficient calories if all their meals were this size. But before we change the standard portion sizes, we need to remember that a larger percentage of schoolchildren are at weights that doctors say increase their risk of disease.
    I think the focus should be on making sure kids get a real breakfast and have food at home. This might involve giving free breakfast in the classroom to all students. And it certainly would be important to ensure that families have enough money to buy dinner. Poverty and cuts to food stamps are the real problem in that discussion.

  • Bonnie Christensen

    I think the problem is the protein. Athletes need more protein and high schoolers need protein for the brain development occurring at this stage of their growth. The protein requirement for HS students was cut in half to about 2oz per lunch. This is absurd when you consider these two factors. WHY was this change made? Was it to save money to pay for increased fresh fruits and veg and/or to accommodate calorie restrictions? Either way, this is not the criteria that should be used to determine how much protein High Schoolers should be getting. I suspect if we could return to the old protein requirements our kids would feel a bit more satisfied and would have more energy to get them through their day!

  • Iowa Bess

    Healthy hearty red-blooded American kids are physically active. They need calories sufficient to carry them through a day of chores at home in the morning, study at school, physical ed at school, sports after school and a few more quick chores when they get home later. These kids do go hungry on the pinheaded pennypinching rations of veggie broth doled out to puny lethargic sedentary kids on the left and right coasts of the US. Calorie restriction to growing kids is not the answer. Plenty of physical activity and daily nutrients are the answer. It is the only way to prevent our children becoming obese wussies. Damned food police cannot grasp the concept because they are consummate wussies. They are precisely the entitled do-nothing complainers Mitt Romney was describing. We don’t need some head in the clouds poindexter NYU jackass to tell us how to feed our kids out here in America.

  • ‘”It’s an outdated idea that kids aren’t getting enough protein — most kids are eating twice the recommended amount,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that fought for healthier school meals.”
    Also a reminder that kids get protein from legumes and dairy.
    We need to learn a new way of eating. The days of 16 ounce steaks, are over. We can’t sustain our obsession with protein.
    And as the following article notes, we can’t feed every kid like they are a linebacker in football. Provide the football players snacks via the sports department.
    http://www.ksdk.com/news/article/340292/28/Students-push-back-on-new-school-lunches-

  • husna

    How about eating some breakfast at home to combat the hypoglycemia symptoms experienced by high school teens during the day?
    Parents, here is our responsibility to our kids: Let’s teach our high schoolers how to make a healthy breakfast, scrambled egg whites and skimmed milk go a long way in providing them energy through the morning. The calories at lunch is not the issue, its the ill-designed menus, and a simple survey to all high school students will confirm that!

  • John

    Oh, you mean the government plan of one-size-fits all actually hardly fits anybody? That’s what happens when you attempt to apply AVERAGES to INDIVIDUALS. Let’s say the average calorie requirement is 850c. If you have 3 people with individual requirements of 1000c, 850c, and 700c, then the average requirement is 850c. If you give each of them 850c, then one of them has too much food, one of them has too little, and one of them has the right amount. Now do this with 1000 students, who all have a range of requirements. Only the few students, let’s say 10 percent of them, right in the very middle will get the right amount of food. 40% will get too little food and still be hungry. Another 40% will get too much food, contributing to waste. Thank you, FASCIST GOVERNMENT OVERLORDS. (Don’t call them “big brother” or “nanny state,” because that downplays the true evil of our republic)

  • Alex

    Kids are smarter than the food cops. They won’t waste their lunch money on some downsized cup of bland gassy vegetable porridge when they can hit the vending machines or convenience stores and buy a big bag of chips and a 32oz soda to wash it down.
    There is nothing more distracting than hunger unless maybe the mortal embarrassment of permitting oneself to be systematically cheated by the food police. Who says we have to ration calories or protein in this nation? Are you daft? Who granted you imbeciles permission to experiment on our kids?
    We needed pubic health types to educate us but instead they were feeding their own faces while we all grew obese on their watch. Failed educators now want power to oppress us politically. They will abuse that responsibility too. Useless incompetent food taliban. We should require them to keep us informed of their own BMIs before we permit them to utter a syllable. In fact, we should be required to publicly stone to death any food preacher whose body weight or BMI fluctuates more than 1% away from what their propaganda claims is normal. Teach by example, geniuses.

  • Meghan

    I am a mother of a grade school aged child in Kansas and I have definitely seen a difference in her energy levels since this program has been introduced. My normally active, rambunctious child is fast asleep in the evening when I go pick her up from my parents’ house. This never happened before and she eats a good breakfast at home, or sometimes breakfast at school, and a healthy, home cooked meal every night. The problem lies in the fact that they are getting smaller portions of the same junk they got before. Why not give them large portions of GOOD food? My child would happily eat a large chicken breast with brown rice and a salad as a side. Add a salad as side to pizza and they are STILL eating pizza for lunch. With processed cheese psuedo-tomato sauce and meats full pf preservatives. Salad, is another issue, there is NO nutritional value in the bagged iceberg lettuce heavy salads they feed them. Why not some different greens? Arugula, spinach, radicchio? Why is chocolate milk still an option? Or whole milk for that matter? Sugar heavy “juices”? The whole system needs an overhaul. I feel very sorry for the children who don’t get good food at home. My daughter is starving in the evenings, I can’t imagine how those other children feel.

  • Yes, John, let’s just bag the lunch program and let the kids go hungry. But they’ll be free and that’s what’s important, right?

  • Tonya

    The program has kind of a contradiction going. The act is Healthy Hunger-free Kids ACT of 2010 (keep kids from going hungry right!!!! right combat obesity is the new excuse) The fact that they do not want any child to go hungry but yet they want to help curb the obesity rates. I say feed the kids but make sure the foods served are healthy more fruits, veggies, low fat dairy less fat less pre-processed items (chicken nuggets, pizza, so on and so on) fresh made nuggets and pizza can cut fat and calories in the meal. Teach kids the foods they are suppose to eat through school meals since some have no other choices at home.

  • Michael Bulger

    Irony might be too soft of a description, but Rep. Steve King (who has proposed a bill ending calorie limits in school lunches) is also trying to cut SNAP benefits. So on the one hand he is justifying his position based on the need to feed hungry children, but on the other he is working to cut off the food stamps that feed them at home.

  • Michael Bulger

    Wait.. children can always get seconds of fruits and vegetables? The original article should have reported this, because it makes the whole controversy look baseless and silly. Dan, you seem to have made a glaring error this time around.

  • Ted

    I don’t know if students can go back through the line to get seconds of fruits and vegetables. That sounds contrived. I do see we get seconds of Michael Bulger’s singular wishful opinions whether we care for them or not. I just scrape those dumbassed opinions in the trash along with the mushy flavorless vegetables. Food police have Mikey working overtime in a desperate effort to jerk us around. No thanks dude.

  • John

    Tonya, since pepsi and mcdonalds are in charge of making our nutrition rules, what do you think they would teach the kids about healthful eating? Unfortunately, good science and reliable anecdotal evidence take a back seat to the corporate-controlled government overlords making the decisions. I would not be the least bit surprised to very soon see kids being taught that foods MUST be processed to be healthful and that fresh fruits/vegetables are bad because they have bacteria on them(nevermind that most of those bacteria are good and 100% NECESSARY for glowing health). Meanwhile, our life expectencies are dropping, and our high quality of life is being replaced by debiliting chronic disease. We owe it all to the increasing pervasiveness of highly processed “foods.”
    Shelley, where did I say to get rid of the program?

  • Reducing portion size will leave people hungery no matter how many calories. The need to give larger portions of foods with less calories to fill up bellys without increasing the kids waist lines.