“We are hungry!”
That’s the cry of Weston High School students who signed a petition complaining about the size of their school lunches.
After noticing that his burrito and other entrées were smaller than last year, Connor Gorkin, assisted by friends Asher Lee-Tyson, Ethan Lee-Tyson, and Kei Pritsker, circulated a petition asking the school to increase the size of its lunches.
The boys got more than 200 signatures from fellow students on the petition.
“Food portion sizes have dramatically shrunk this year due to new federal laws. For some of my friends, it takes three lunches to get full,” Connor said.
The students presented the petition to Andre Santelli, director of dining and food development for Chartwells, the school district’s food service.
Mr. Santelli acknowledged that lunch portions are smaller than last year. He said changes were made in accordance with the government’s new nutrition standards — part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — that went into effect in 2012 as a bid to combat childhood obesity and promote healthier eating.
The new standards require schools to serve more variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. The standards limit the calories that may be served at meals based on students’ ages, and place limits on the amounts of grains and proteins that may be served over the course of a week.
The problem for students in Weston is not the quality of the food or the variety. Chartwells has been offering a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for some time as well as whole grains in its bread products, according to Mr. Santelli.
The problem in Weston, according to the students, is the size of the portions.
Some of the changes made this year to conform to the federal standards were visibly apparent, Connor said. He noticed sandwiches, burritos and pizza slices were smaller. “A lot of students need to buy more than one lunch in order to feel full. That isn’t right,” he said.
The burritos used to come in a 12-inch wrap, Mr. Santelli said, but are now served in a nine-inch wrap. A slice of pizza used to be one-sixth of a pie, but it is now one-eighth of the same-sized pie. Sandwiches are served on smaller slices of bread, too.
“It used to take me a while to eat my lunch. Now it seems like after five bites, I’m done,” Connor said.
While acknowledging that portions are smaller than they were last year, part of the problem is perception, Mr. Santelli said. “The size of the burrito wrap is smaller but there is the same amount of filling inside,” he said.
Although proteins and carbohydrates are more limited under the new standards, students may also choose more fruits and vegetables with their lunches. But Mr. Santelli said some students aren’t aware that they can choose a salad or piece of fruit to accompany their meal, while others just don’t want those choices.
A school lunch costs between $3.60 and $3.75, and for that price, among the things a student may choose are a sandwich or a wrap with cold cuts, such as Boar’s Head brand ham or turkey; unlimited fruit, such as apples, pears or bananas; a salad from the salad bar with items such as lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, croutons, and dressing; and milk.
“You can fill yourself if you use the program correctly,” Mr. Santelli said.
Another popular lunch option is hand-rolled sushi, which ranges from $3 to $4 and includes eight pieces of freshly cut sushi.
Fit and hungry
Lisa Wolak, Weston High School principal, sympathized with the students’ frustration, acknowledging that a lunch that fills up a smaller, younger student, won’t necessarily work for athletes. “Seventy percent of the student body participates in athletics. They are fit and hungry. It’s unfortunate,” she said.
There is irony to serving students smaller portions for nutritional purposes, according to Connor. He said students who aren’t satisfied at lunch often fill up on junk food and sugary snacks before they head out to practice, defeating the whole point of healthier eating.
The students in Weston aren’t the only ones complaining about the new regulation. Connor said he was motivated after learning that students at Staples High School in Westport had successfully petitioned for changes to their lunch program after students complained there was too little meat in their sandwiches.
Across the country, others have complained as well, including students and teachers at Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kan., who created a YouTube parody titled “We Are Hungry,” showing students collapsing in mock exhaustion out of feigned hunger.
Ms. Wolak and Mr. Santelli said they are taking the student petition to heart. But before any changes may be made to the size of the lunches, the district is analyzing whether there will be any financial ramifications if the high school is taken off the National School Lunch Program.
Schools receive financial reimbursements from the lunch program, which are made as long as food authorities are certified to be “in compliance” with the updated meal requirements.
“If we don’t follow the guidelines, we may have to go off the federal program and we could lose between $60,000 and $65,000 a year in funding. That’s the dilemma,” Ms. Wolak said.
Mr. Santelli is reviewing what the costs would be if the high school opts out of the lunch program. In the meantime, he plans to meet again with the petitioning students in December.
“We are totally responsive to them and take every comment and suggestion to heart,” he said.